Heartbreak in nursing homes, dying from loneliness amid COVID-19 visiting restrictions

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KMSP Fox 9, June 11 2020

Chester Peske, a WWII veteran, died on June 2nd, four months short of reaching 100th birthday. (FOX 9)

FOX 9 – The state of Minnesota is making plans to ease visitor restrictions in long-term care facilities after senior citizens spent the last three months in isolation, one of them dying in part to loneliness.

The FOX 9 Investigators found Chester Peske died on June 2nd, four months short of reaching his 100th birthday. His primary cause of death is Alzheimer’s but the secondary cause is “social isolation, failure to thrive, related to COVID-19 restrictions”, meaning he died, in part, from loneliness.  

The state of Minnesota is making plans to ease visitor restrictions in long-term care facilities after senior citizens spent the last three months in isolation, one of them dying in part to loneliness.

The WWII veteran was diagnosed with the coronavirus, but remained asymptomatic. He then spent two and a half weeks alone, isolated in his room at a Twin Cities memory care unit.  

Allison Fiedler from Bluestone Physician Services was his nurse practitioner and the medical certifier, providing the cause of death on the death certificate. She told the FOX 9 Investigators she doesn’t use that cause of death often, but felt it was necessary in this case and wanted to create a historical record on why he died.

The FOX 9 Investigators found another individual with the cause of death labeled “COVID-19 social isolation”. His family declined to comment.

Isolated and lonely

Barbara Lokken’s aunt, survived COVID-19 at St. Therese in New Hope, where at least 60 other people died from the virus. However, 91-year old, Millie Harms might die of a broken heart. She hasn’t seen her family in three months. Her niece believes she is losing weight, and “the spark in her eyes.”

“It just breaks my heart that her kids can’t go see her,” she said. “We are robbing them of being with their loved ones before they pass away.”

Thousands of seniors in assisted living and nursing homes are going on their fourth month of lockdown: no visitors, no activities, and their friends are dying.

Studies show isolated seniors have higher rates of heart disease, stroke, and dementia. It’s a mortality rate comparable to those who smoke, are obese, or chronic alcoholics.  

Testing necessary to get visitors back 

Minnesota Senator, Karin Housley, of St. Mary’s Point, has been urging the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to allow visitors back into the facilities. During the special session of the legislature, which starts on Friday, she will introduce a bill that would require long-term care centers to test all residents and staff and create comprehensive infection control programs. 

“These people need some testing, who has it who doesn’t, so we can get these family members back together because that’s what we need right now,” she said.

The senator believes one way to ease the restrictions would be to require visitors to get COVID-19 tests, 48 hours prior to seeing their loved ones. 

Visitors needed to help monitor the vulnerable

University of Minnesota adjunct professor and aging expert, Eilon Caspi said visitors are often the eyes and ears of vulnerable residents. 

“We are allowing staff members to go in and out, there’s got to be ways to do it in a reasonably safe way,” he said. “We are starting to receive reports on residents who are severely harmed in different ways, through mistreatment as well as death.”

MDH making plans to ease restrictions

The Minnesota Department of Health is making plans to reunite visitors with their loved ones, at least from a safe distance from one another. MDH plans to release details soon on window and outdoor visits.

Officials are now allowing hair stylists back into long-term care facilities as long as they follow certain rules on protecting themselves and residents who choose to have beauty shop services.

“We know the importance of these social connections for health and well-being. The toll of the separation of families and loved ones has been one of the most heartbreaking parts of the COVID-19 outbreak,” MDH officials wrote in a press release.
 

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