Arlene Violet: COVID-19 causes extreme family hardship

By Arlene Violet
Posted 10/29/20

I must confess that I have little patience with folks who minimize the impact of the Coronavirus. Recently, President Donald Trump had a meltdown when he attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the …

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Arlene Violet: COVID-19 causes extreme family hardship


I must confess that I have little patience with folks who minimize the impact of the Coronavirus. Recently, President Donald Trump had a meltdown when he attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top pandemic authority. The president went on to claim that Americans are “tired of” COVID-19. Well, for those for whom that sentiment is true, it’s too darn bad!

Whether one is not in an endangered class, suffers only minor symptoms, or who doesn’t have a taxpayer-supported treatment to the tune of $650,000, the cost of Mr. Trump’s “cocktail", being an American means that a citizen should care about his/her fellow countrypersons.

I was heartbroken when I read the report that everyone in a Kansas City nursing home contracted coronavirus. Closer to home, Rhode Island congregate settings continue to be a spawning ground for the virus. Most importantly, is the ripping of the social fabric of society whereby elderly people with or without the virus are confined to isolation.

Journalist Amanda Milkovits (Boston Globe, July 30) wrote a poignant story of the plight of elderly couples who are separated. The article focused on Audrey (age 84) and Jack Galligan (age 87) who have been married over 61 years. Audrey is at St. Elizabeth’s nursing home and Jack lives with his son, Charlie, in Bristol. Before the pandemic, Jack visited every day, even as he slipped into dementia. Now, the couple is separated for extended periods of time. As their son Charlie Galligan noted, “What lives are we preserving, if we are not letting them be with the people they love and want to be with?” Pre-covid, Jack would hold his wife’s hand and tell her he loved her and she would do the same over and over again. Now, Jack is lucky to see her for a half-hour episodically, while divided by Plexiglas.

Residents of nursing homes are real people. My clients (whom I cannot visit) are radio personalities, a nurse, a businesswoman, a retired teacher, spouses and parents. I know from their distraught families how each of them have declined because of isolation. The State and CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) have got to be creative to stop the toll that physical separation from family and others is taking on nursing home residents and the stay-at-home spouse, in particular.

Rhode Island has shown leadership when it proposed funding heating apparatus for restaurants to continue outdoor dining. No such program for funding this modification or for heated tents were proposed for nursing home visitation. True it is that children separated from classmates and teachers suffer educational harm, so how much more deprivation is it for those on the ending chapter(s) of their lives?

On Sept. 17 CMS announced new guidelines for safe visitation in nursing homes. It amplifies additional examples of compassionate care situations, not just an exception when the resident is dying. By then, it often is too late because the resident has already suffered through the perception of abandonment and cannot even recognize the presence of a loved one during the final hours.

Legislation introduced by Representative George Nardone, 2020-H 8131, should get a hearing. The Act would entitle congregant residents to designate a person to provide them with companionship, health guidance and advocacy. RI should not be writing off the elderly.

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.


Arlene Violet

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