COVID-19 means hard times for nursing home residents
By Cigale Ahlquist
Jennette Gudgel misses her outings to Como Park Zoo, Minnesota Opera and Goodwill. But she has kept busy since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in earnest last spring.
The 85-year-old former College of St. Catherine marketing management associate professor took up writing in retirement. Since the COVID lockdown began, she has compiled rough drafts of two novels: one about a homeless boy who witnesses the death of George Floyd and the other about a group of nursing home residents who expose drug pushers.
Characters in the latter tale are composites of fellow residents of the Lyngblomsten Care Center, where Gudgel has lived for three years.
“I got a lot of my information at meal time, when we sat together,” Gudgel said. “With COVID, we can’t do that. We go to the dining room, but it’s just one person per table.”
Meanwhile, monthly meetings of the Minnesota Christian Writers Guild that Gudgel used to attend in person have moved online during the pandemic. Gudgel talks often by phone with a fellow writer in the group.
COVID-19 has been especially difficult for those in all forms of senior housing.
Lyngblomsten CEO Jeff Heinecke said everyone at the facility—made up of three buildings housing the care center for 225 residents, 60 market rate apartments and 105 subsidized rentals—has had to adjust.
“The biggest changes were frequency of in-person visits and large group gatherings,” said Heinecke, also interim administrator. “It has been really difficult for families, so we’ve been doing a good number of virtual visits since September.”
Lyngblomsten has a closed-circuit camera that allows residents to view entertainment or religious services in the chapel while remaining in their units. The chapel also is used as a meeting area for in-person visits. Both Lyngblomsten and the Saint Anthony Park Home, which is home to 74 residents, have opened to visits by designated essential caregivers.
The phased rollout of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine began in late December with the first of two doses, administered 28 days apart, offered to staff and residents at Lyngblomsten and Saint Anthony Park Home. All of those people will have been offered the initial dose, and some will have received both by Feb. 1.
About 93 percent of Lyngblomsten’s residents and 61 percent of care center staff received the first dose, Heinecke said at Bugle deadline.
“The hope is that we will capture a good deal more of our staff,” he said. “Now that they’ve seen others have fared well getting it, they’ll say, ‘OK, I’ll get it.’”
Both facilities have begun testing staff twice a week and residents once weekly for the coronavirus.
It’s too soon to envision what the post-pandemic world will look like, said John Barker, owner of the Saint Anthony Park Home.
“We’re too much in the middle of it,” he said. “I’m hopeful that the vaccine is a way back to normal, if there is ever going to be a normal again. It’s the first hopeful thing in 11 months.
“Fewer restrictions for people coming and going—none of that’s going to be a reality unless the vaccine works.”
Heinecke, of Lyngblomsten, said he looks forward to seeing families and volunteers back on campus. “Typically, we had 800 active volunteers, literally a dozen every day,” he said. “We miss them. It’s hard on the staff and hard on the residents. We enjoy the interaction.”
What does Gudgel look forward to?
“Going to Barnes & Noble and walking up and down the aisles of books,” she said. “Just looking. Not even buying anything.”
For seniors preferring to remain in their private homes, Saint Anthony Park Area Seniors provides services from living assistance to wellness activities, nursing care and caregiver support. In-person activities have been modified: exercise classes now are via Zoom, and volunteers shop for and deliver groceries rather than take a senior to a market.
“We’ve never completely shut down, but it will be nice to do things together again,” said Katharine Tondra, program director. “We dearly miss the staff and seniors.”
Cigale Ahlquist is a Twin Cities freelance writer for the Bugle.