Retirement homes in a pandemic


Unfortunately, COVID-19 has made its way to Utah. And while a good portion of Timpview students are safe at home, lonely and bored but otherwise healthy, some of our most important family members are the most at risk. Our grandparents.

Some elderly might be living on their own or with their children, but many of the most susceptible seniors are living together in assisted living and retirement communities.

When coronavirus first came to the US, it hit hardest in one retirement home in Kirkland, Washington where at least 120 people were infected, 37 of which died. This retirement home, Life of Care Center, is currently being sued for allegedly neglecting to inform resident’s families of previous COVID-19 infections within the home and for not having a physician on site.

In the New York region, roughly 2,000 nursing home residents have died from the virus. A nursing home in New Jersey had to fit 17 bodies into a morgue meant for four after 66 residents and two employees died, though only 26 of those were confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Although Utah has had far fewer cases, the operations of the state’s retirement homes have been affected. In Provo’s Legacy Village Assisted Living, right next to Walden School of Liberal Arts, protective measures have been in place and increasing since March. First, extra sanitation measures and fewer large gatherings. Then, following Governor Herbert’s suggestion of limiting groups of elderly to 20 people, the residents began taking their meals in their rooms and all non-medically essential guests were refused entry.

LDS church gatherings were suspended inside and outside of the home and residents were assigned specific bingo times. Residents who had been out of state, visited the hospital, or were showing COVID-19 symptoms were quarantined for two weeks. Employees began taking their temperature before each shift, wearing gloves and face masks, and avoiding unnecessary contact with residents. These measures will stay in play at least through the end of May and likely longer.

Timpview Junior and Legacy Village employee Marian Eastley said of the home “All employees are more anxious and on edge, having panic attacks because of masks and hurrying to help residents with requests. The residents are hopeful but paranoid, wanting human connection but not feeling safe.”

Nursing homes across the state have been taking similar precautions to avoid situations like Life of Care Center, but even these changes cannot prevent infections entirely. 44 of the 80 retirement homes in Utah have had at least one confirmed COVID-19 case in either a resident or employee. However, only three have reported two or more cases. The biggest risk is that healthy employees may be infected and contagious but show no symptoms, and with the scarcity of testing, retirement homes aren’t often high enough priority to perform wide spread testing of employees until a case is confirmed.

That being said, living in a retirement community with employees in masks and gloves can be much safer than living with a family that isn’t equipped for the level of precaution elderly need to avoid this virus. But whether they live at home or in a home, we can protect those most vulnerable by staying home.