From the Senate

Nursing homes: Keep your distance to keep them safe

Fri, 04/17/2020 - 7:00am

    There are 93 long-term care facilities in Maine, most of which are either nursing homes or assisted living facilities for seniors. About a dozen of these are in Lincoln County.

    This past weekend, after a handful of patients and workers tested positive for COVID-19 at an Augusta facility, the Maine CDC tested all staff and residents there and found that 55 of them were positive, including nearly two-thirds of the residents. There are now four of these facilities in Maine experiencing outbreaks. One each in Augusta, Belfast, Scarborough and Falmouth.

    This raises two very important points that we all must recognize.

    First, the number of “confirmed cases” of the virus reported in a given area is not an indication of how many cases there really are. It is a figure showing how many people were positive “out of those tested,” not out of everyone who lives there. In Augusta, the number of “confirmed cases” was four, until more thorough testing showed it was actually 55.

    This is very important because we cannot be lulled into the belief that a particular area or community is free of the virus simply because there have not been any cases reported there. Less than one percent of Mainers have been tested to date. We must always be cautious and follow the recommendations of the Maine Center for Disease Control in order to protect ourselves and our loved ones in residential care.

    Secondly, as difficult as it seems, we as family members must not visit these facilities in person for the time being, at least. The more people who move in and out, the more likely the virus can be transmitted to someone inside the building. Once inside, as the case in Augusta illustrates, the danger to all residents and even staff is very great.

    Thanks to technology, however, there are new ways that we can “visit” residents without being physically present in the building. Amazon, Google, and other companies offer products that allow us to chat virtually whenever we choose, including the use of video. Even a smart phone gives us the ability to stay in touch “face to face” from a distance.

    While this is a difficult necessity, and it seems counter to what we all feel, we must recognize that staying away from our loved ones is what is best and safest for them until the outbreak has subsided.

    Send cards, letters, and emails. Call, text, and video chat, and do it often, but for the time being, please stay away physically, even while your heart remains with them in spirit. Who knows? You may even find you spend more time with them virtually than you were able to do in person before the outbreak, and they will surely love the attention and the company.

    Sen. Dana Dow represents District 13 in the Maine State Senate.