How Family Caregivers Can Stay Connected with Loved Ones in Nursing Homes During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Family caregivers have now faced nearly four weeks of physical separation from their loved ones in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in order to protect them from the fast-spreading coronavirus. As each day of this pandemic passes, and families come to grips with new rules about visitation, many caregivers are becoming worried about their family members’ care and mental health.

AARP understands this pain and stress, which is why we fought for and secured increased funding for nursing homes and other residential facilities to improve safety for older adults most at risk of the virus and to better protect the health and safety of residents.

In addition, AARP has developed a new tip sheet on how family caregivers can stay connected to their loved ones quarantined in assisted living facilities.

  • Provide facilities with the most up-to-date emergency contact information to ensure facilities can contact them easily and provide all updates about a loved one or the facility at large. Caregivers should read all information the facility sends out, which may describe systems put in place to help facilitate virtual visits or phone calls.
  • Communicate verbally by phone with loved ones and by video call, if possible. Caregivers should check in routinely and think of ways to participate in mutual activities, like playing a trivia game, watching a TV show, reading poetry, etc. Those more technologically advanced should consider video calls, like FaceTime or Zoom, and should ask the facility if they can help facilitate this.
    • ARRP continues to fight for congressional funding for technology to allow people to stay in touch with their loved ones in long-term care facilities. AARP is also urging Congress to require nursing homes to provide additional family and resident notice and communication about virtual visitation.
  • Appoint one member of the family as the facility’s liaison. Caregivers should find out the facility’s main point of contact and the best phone number to stay updated on how a loved one is managing. Questions like, are they getting help to walk around as appropriate? Are they eating their meals? What kind of activities are offered? should be asked.
  • Utilize a family council as a communication method with the facility and to advocate for residents. If a facility doesn’t have a family council, caregivers should create an email group to share information and use as a collective voice for advocacy. A virtual council meeting could be an avenue for facility staff to present information about virus protection/response and infection control.
  • Send cheerful cards and notes, not only to loved ones, but to other residents and staff. With technology taking over most communication methods, handwritten cards and letters are more special than ever. Recipients can display the cards in their rooms to remind themselves that their family caregivers are thinking of them.
  • Support the facility staff and work together. Facilities might be short staffed and dealing with new operating procedures, and this is a hard time for them as well while they are on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak. Caregivers should thank them for their care, and ask what they might need or are allowed to receive.
  • Raise concerns about care and rights violations with facility administration and with the long-term care ombudsman program. Complaints can also be filed with the state Department of Health, although due to new guidance from CMS, follow up will likely be delayed if not in one of the priority areas for survey.

For the latest news and advice for family caregivers on coronavirus, visit www.aarp.org/coronavirus.

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