When COVID-19 hit New Jersey in March 2020, visitation at New Community Extended Care Facility ceased for everyone’s safety. More than a year later, the facility has been able to resume indoor visitations, allowing loved ones to meet and even hug if both resident and family member are fully vaccinated.
Extended Care has remained free from COVID-19 since October 2020 and it continues to take precautionary measures and frequently tests residents and staff members for the virus. In addition, the facility has arranged for the distribution of vaccines to residents and staff members to further reduce the risk of infection.
Because of the progress, the facility submitted a plan to resume indoor, in-person visitation, which was approved. Extended Care welcomed visitors back on April 12, with protocols in place for the safety of residents, staff and visitors.
“The balance between keeping everyone in the Extended Care Facility safe and the need for people to have human interaction is so difficult,” said New Community CEO Richard Rohrman. “Both compete equally in our residents’ well-being. I think the leadership and staff at the facility have navigated this with the utmost thoughtfulness and compassion as demonstrated in the facility being COVID-free for so long. Thanks to the cooperation amongst staff, residents and families, I think the outcome is better than anyone could have expected.”
Visits are by appointment only and limited to 30 minutes once per week. Only two people are allowed to visit at one time and the visit must occur in a designated area. Temperature screenings are conducted for all visitors.
Despite the limitations, families are happy to be able to be close to their loved ones again. Maria Mendez was apart from her 92-year-old mother Maria Torres for an extended period, which she said has taken a toll. Torres has been a resident at Extended Care since 2019 and has had several strokes.
“Emotionally it’s affecting me because I want to see my mom,” Mendez said of restricted visitation. “Because I feel like I can help with her recovery.”
Before the pandemic, Mendez would visit her mother every day in her room and bring her food. While she is happy to be able to be close to her mother once a week, she hopes that one day soon she will be able to go to her mother’s room and remove her mask so her mother can read her lips to understand her better.
“I understand that they really need to take care,” Mendez said. “But it’s really hard.”
New Community Chief Operating Officer Fred Hunter is happy the facility has been able to reunite families.
“Our Extended Care Facility residents have been wanting to resume visitation with family and friends for a year and I am glad to see the day come that they can have visitors,” he said.
Because Mendez and Torres have both been fully vaccinated, they are able to hug each other during visits, which has been positive for the pair.
Vaccinations were offered to all residents and staff members at the facility and many took advantage of the opportunity.
“When comparing the vaccination percentages, you can see a higher number of Extended Care residents that have been vaccinated than the rest of the community,” Hunter said.
Being fully vaccinated has allowed loved ones to have the physical contact that has been absent for more than a year.
“Seeing families now visit their loved ones and for those who are vaccinated actually having a touch with each other brings such a smile to my face because I can only imagine how it feels to touch your loved one again,” said Extended Care Administrator Veronica Onwunaka. “That gratitude that we’ve been able to maintain the safety of our residents and now vaccinated families are able to hold their loved ones and hug them really means a lot to us. And I want to keep it going.”
To help make it possible to carry on with in-person visitation and ensure the safety of residents, staff members and visitors, Extended Care continues its vigorous testing schedule to ensure that any incident of COVID-19 is caught early and contained.
Staff members continue to keep families informed about their loved ones as they have throughout the pandemic. Mendez said the staff always keeps her updated about her mother and has been nice and patient whenever she calls.
“I have good communication with the nurses. That’s the part that’s really helping me because I’m keeping in touch with the people that work here. I can call any time,” Mendez said. “I ask them to give my mom the camera and they give me a chance to see her with the camera.”
While interacting through a screen offers a level of comfort during a tumultuous time, it doesn’t compare to a face-to-face meeting and a hug between a mother and daughter. Mendez is grateful to be able to have that closeness with her mother again and hopes to be able to do it more often in the future.
New Community Extended Care Facility, 266 South Orange Ave., Newark, is a 180-bed skilled nursing facility that serves inner city seniors and disabled adults. The facility specializes in offering customized care for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. For more information, visit newarknursinghome.org or call 973-624-2020.