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In Warren, families reunite as nursing home visit restrictions ease

By Ted Hayes and Rich Dionne


The past week and a half have been a godsend for Lena Dexter, 98, and her daughter Doris Berube. 

Like many thousands of other nursing home residents and their families across Rhode Island and other states, the past four months have been unspeakably hard, with Covid-19 restrictions preventing families from seeing their loved ones in person. That changed Wednesday, July 8, when Gov. Gina Raimondo eased restrictions allowing family members to visit their loved ones. At The Willows, one of two care units run by Grace Barker Health in Warren, the state’s policy change has noticeably lifted spirits among residents, Willows executive director Paula Lage said Tuesday.

“It’s so nice to see,” she said. “They’re so happy to see their families and we see their spirits lifted.”

Though the center was coordinating online ‘visits’ with family members prior, “Skype doesn’t compare.”

For Doris and her mom, visits started surreptitiously long before July 9, the first time they were able to meet in person. Earlier, Ms. Berube, who lives in Swansea, would travel to the Willows, sneak around back and stand outside her mom’s window to talk. Luckily mom lived on the ground floor and Doris would knock on the window almost daily.

“I would just check in and say hi,”she said. “I liked to make sure that she was OK.”

Eventually, she was asked to refrain from the unsanctioned visits. But since July 9, she has been a regular - and authorized - guest and usually comes daily.

Mrs. Dexter loves seeing her daughter and said she would see her all the time if she could.

“I’m happy when she comes to see me,” Mrs. Dexter said. “It’s usually a quick visit, but I’m glad she comes.”

She and her mom talk about family, goings-on, play cards and Ms. Berube brings news of her mom back to her brother, East Providence resident Walter Dexter. Mr. Dexter, who recently traveled from Florida, has not been able to visit in person yet.

Many restrictions are in place, and residents and their families must adhere to social distancing guidelines, wear face masks, sanitize coming in and going, schedule visits in advance and agree to a packet of safety requirements sent to them in advance by Grace Barker Health. Still, Ms. Lage said the restrictions are required, necessary and for the good of all - Grace Barker Health is the only facility in Warren that has remained Covid-19 free since the start of the crisis.

She said morale among residents is up as their loved ones return, and she hopes in-person visits will continue to be allowed as the crisis unfolds: 

“There’s nothing like being able to see a loved one” in person.

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