AP

Nations seek to ease nursing home loneliness yet keep safe

Apr 20, 2020, 5:33 AM | Updated: 5:35 am
FILE - In this April 16, 2020, file photo, Richard Eberhardt walks along a corridor at a nursing ho...
FILE - In this April 16, 2020, file photo, Richard Eberhardt walks along a corridor at a nursing home in Kaysesberg, France. Countries across Europe are struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic with the dilemma of leaving the elderly and others near death in enforced solitude or whether to allow some personal contact with relatives. At nursing homes, everything is done to keep out visitors who might be infected, and family members are almost always banned from coming to see their loved ones. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias, File)
(AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias, File)

HALLE, Belgium (AP) — Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes just wanted to do the humane thing.

After so many frail and elderly nursing home residents had been held in seclusion from their loved ones in the first weeks of the lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Wilmes said her government decided to allow one visitor — in good health — per person.

“People can die of loneliness,” Wilmes told parliament on Thursday. “Sustained isolation has consequences.”

She soon reaped a whirlwind of criticism amid cries it would endanger lives, overburden the staff and use already short supplies of protective equipment for visitors instead of health care workers.

“Literally opening the doors also means leaving them wide open for the virus. It means there will be more infections and and that more vulnerable elderly will die,” according to the Icaro care organization.

Her initiative has been repealed in most of the country and new meetings have been called on the issue.

Belgium is hardly alone in struggling with the emotional and ethical issue of whether to soften rigorous rules amid the overwhelming chaos in hospitals and nursing homes.

In the Netherlands, Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge called it a “devil’s dilemma.”

As the virus raced through Europe, the hardest-hit countries — Italy, Spain, Britain, France — banned all nursing home visits to protect the vulnerable elderly, who were dying by the thousands from the coronavirus. From Belgium to Turkey, several other countries did the same.

But as the confinement drags on, some are rethinking that. In recent days, France, Britain and Belgium have proposed relaxing the rules to ease the pain of families, and their locked-away loved ones.

In the U.S., federal government guidelines recommend halting all visits except during end-of-life and other extraordinary situations, when visitors should be equipped with personal protective gear. The federal agency that regulates nursing homes urges them to designate separate facilities to keep COVID-19 residents away from those who have tested negative.

Berlin allows nursing home patients to receive one visitor for up to one hour a day, and doesn’t restrict visits to palliative care facilities for those nearing the end. South Africa has begun to take precautionary measures at nursing homes, but in most of Africa — the world’s youngest continent, with a median age of just 19.7 years — concerns about aging populations have not loomed as large as they have in Europe, the world’s oldest continent.

Yet the question of dying alone doesn’t only affect the elderly.

“Ismael, dying aged 13 without a parent at his bedside, made me weep,” U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in describing the death of one of the country’s youngest COVID-19 victims last month.

The issue has struck a chord, since few fears in life are more universal than being alone as one dies.

Often, it is not just the lack of a hug or a smile from a grandchild; it’s knowing that a spouse or parent may be dying without anyone at their bedside.

Pope Francis last week called on the world to pray “for those who are isolated in care homes for the elderly. They are afraid, afraid of dying alone.”

The isolation might last through 2020, said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“Without a vaccine, contacts with the elderly must be restricted as much as possible. I realize it is difficult and that loneliness weighs heavy. But it’s about survival,” she said.

France is trying to find a middle ground.

Last week French President Emmanuel Macron ordered an exception to one of the world’s strictest lockdowns to allow families “to see the sick at the end of their lives, to be able to bid them adieu.” And on Monday, France will start allowing two family members to visit any loved ones in nursing homes, if adequate protection is ensured.

Sophie Santandrea of private French nursing home group Synerpa was cautious about allowing visits, saying “it will depend on the protocols that are put in place, and whether they are very clear and sufficient” to protect everyone from exposure to the virus from visitors.

Marc Bourquin of the Hospital Federation of France, which oversees public nursing homes, said there needed to be a way for all elderly to have a visitor, especially if the situation lasts for months.

“When workers see that a person is losing the taste for life because they can’t see their families, we have to find a way to progressively be able to allow a minimum of contact,” Bourquin said. “The risk of virus will not disappear as long as there is no vaccine. We cannot condemn these people to never see their loved ones again.”

Staff safety also was raised in Britain amid shortages of personal protective equipment, or PPE.

“As of this moment, I am very worried that we don’t have enough PPE for staff to protect themselves, let alone facilitate giving it to relatives to be able to see their loved ones during the end-of-life care,” said Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing.

It leaves governments, as well as families, in a bind.

“Everybody saw how inhuman the current situation is,” said Wilmes, the Belgian leader. “We have to do something about it.”

—-

Charlton reported from Paris. Contributors include Jill Lawless in London, Mike Corder in The Hague, Matthew Perrone in Washington and Cara Anna in Johannesburg.

___

Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

 

 

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

AP

Microsoft is cutting 10,000 workers, almost 5% of its workforce, in response to "macroeconomic cond...
MATT O'BRIEN, Associated Press

Job cuts in tech sector spread, Microsoft lays off 10,000

Microsoft said in a regulatory filing Wednesday that had just notified employees of the layoffs, some of which begin immediately.
9 days ago
exxon mobil sign pictured...
SETH BORENSTEIN and CATHY BUSSEWITZ Associated Press

Study: Exxon Mobil accurately predicted warming since 1970s

Exxon said its understanding of climate change evolved over the years and that critics are misunderstanding its earlier research.
15 days ago
FILE - Protesters, supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro, stand on the roof of the...
The Associated Press

Brazil and Jan. 6 in US: Parallel attacks, but not identical

RIO DE JANIERO, Brazil — Enraged protesters broke into government buildings that are the very symbol of their country’s democracy. Driven by conspiracy theories about their candidate’s loss in the last election, they smashed windows, sifted through the desks of lawmakers and trashed the highest offices in the land in a rampage that lasted hours […]
17 days ago
President Joe Biden pictured...
ZEKE MILLER AP White House Correspondent

DOJ reviewing potentially classified docs at Biden center

Special counsel to the president Richard Sauber said “a small number of documents with classified markings” were discovered at the offices of the Penn Biden Center.
18 days ago
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06: A poster advertising the launch of Prince Harry's memoir "Spare" is s...
Jill Lawless Associated Press

Prince Harry says explosive book is a bid to ‘own my story’

Prince Harry defended his decision to publish a memoir that lays bare rifts inside Britain’s royal family.
18 days ago
utah capitol, a new bill heading to lawmakers will affect the utah sex offender registry...
HANNAH SCHOENBAUM Associated Press/Report for America

States target transgender health care in first bills of 2023

After a record flow of anti-transgender legislation last year, Republican state lawmakers this year are zeroing in on questions of bodily autonomy.
20 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...
Macey's

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
Nations seek to ease nursing home loneliness yet keep safe