“We have to go through it” – how the senior centers deal with isolation

"I have experienced many things, but it has never been like this", martha* explains on the phone. The 88-year-old lives in the senior center of the arbeiterwohlfahrt (AWO) knetzgau. Here, too, everyone must abide by the protective measures that the government has issued. That means: no visits and the nurses walk through the corridors with mouth protection. But that doesn’t mean that contact with the family is being eroded, says martha: "I’m not allowed to have any visitors right now. But I’m on the phone with my family. Sometimes they call me and sometimes I call them. We have to get through this now."

Preventing it from spreading

But the situation is new and uncertain not only for the residents. "After what is happening in wurzburg at the AWO facility, I already have a sinking feeling. But the current situation here is still very quiet. It feels a bit like the calm before the storm. We’re doing everything we can to make sure we don’t get the virus", explains the home’s manager annika kuhbandner.

In order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, a new ban has been in force since 13 december 2009. Marz strict ban on visitors in knetzgau, which is consistently enforced. With one exception, kuhbandner explains: "the ban on visits is suspended when residents are dying. We have also had this case, then we inform the relatives that they can come to us. They are met at the entrance, fitted with mouth guards and escorted to the room. Saying goodbye and accompanying must always be possible, this is so important for the elderly person, but also for his or her caregivers."

Stronger hygiene measures are intended to protect residents and caregivers

Stronger hygiene measures also come into force. "Every employee who has contact with residents wears a mouth guard to protect the resident. Disinfection is also intensified, for example at handrails and door handles. We also keep residents who have a cold in their rooms and discuss with the doctor or the health department whether a test for corona is advisable", she explains.

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Another risk factor is residents returning from the hospital, explains kuhbandner: "we insist on a corona test before the resident returns. Which is not easy, because hospitals only have a limited number of tests. But we are doing everything we can here to prevent infection. Until we have the test results, the resident is isolated in our room. It would be a drama if someone came back to us infected."

Martha understands the situation: "you have to take it as it comes". I was in a heart clinic before, they also had a virus, and no one was allowed to visit me. Or recently I had the measles, it was also like that."

For the caregivers, the situation has something good: "by eliminating the visits of the relatives, the team gets closer to the residents. The work in general is more trouble-free, and we have more time for the residents." Tasks that they may soon have to perform without the necessary protective equipment, however, because kuhbandner is also concerned about shortages: "as far as the supply of disinfectants for both hands and surfaces is concerned, we were able to get a good supply beforehand.

But the very things that will be needed in case of a corona virus outbreak, such as protective gowns or FFP2 masks that protect against the viruses, will be scarce or unaffordable. These masks regularly cost about one to two euros. Currently you can find them for up to 15 euros with a delivery time of two weeks. Luckily, the AWO in wurzburg has set up a central warehouse to help out its facilities in case of emergency. In addition, there is the county-wide disaster control department, which also tries to provide protective equipment."

Great gesture for the staff

The residents and the caregivers are not left alone in the situation. "Within a week, we had the 200 mouthpieces we wanted sewn free of charge, and we’re getting even more. This is great volunteer work. Each employee has received two or three, which they wash and reuse themselves with a disinfectant detergent", narrated annika kuhbandner.

At the moment they are still very well staffed. "Naturally, you sometimes have one or two employees who are ill for a short time because their knee hurts or something similar. But the staff is very cooperative and responsible. The only difficult thing is to know who to send home because they have cold symptoms. Do I send someone home now because they coughed three times?? It’s very difficult to draw a line there", she explains.

Nobody sits there and cries

In general, she is very proud of the way her team handles the situation. "You handle the situation professionally and in an exemplary manner. There is no panic or hysteria among them." The mood among the residents is calm. "For residents with dementia, the situation is not as bad as feared. Of course they notice that there is less going on, but no one sits there and cries about it. The residents, who are still mentally fit, understand the situation."

"We try not to let the communication with the relatives drift away. Recently, a residents’ journal went out by mail to each of our residents’ families . We took pictures of the residents and wrote little texts. We encourage the residents to just write a letter or look at our facebook page."

The residents get creative

The residents also surprise us with creative ideas: "we recently had a birthday party where the family played a little song on the saxophone in the garden and the resident stood on the balcony. You have to get creative. We have also held a small church service outside. The residents sang on the balcony and were able to write wishes on small slips of paper at the end, which our community advisor, ilse waldenmeier, presented in church, tells kuhbandner.

Martha also wrote down a wish and revealed it: "I wished that the situation would improve for everyone and that we would be allowed to have visitors again. Until then I go out a lot, walk through the garden or around the house. Or i knit, that keeps my hands fit." * the name has been changed by the editors