Virus visitation restrictions difficult for families

Lynne Betts’ mother, Mary Ann Spence, and her oldest granddaughter, Samantha Mangene, together in May on her first COVID-19 outing. Submitted photos

SEAFORD — Losing a loved one in the normal pattern of life and death is heartbreaking.

A pandemic can magnify the heartbreak.

Michael Betts recently lost his mother, Rosemary “Dusty” Betts, who passed away Aug. 4 at the Acts Manor House in Seaford. She was 91 and had battled dementia.

Physically, Mr. Betts wasn’t there with his mom when she passed away.

“I did get to see her very close to the time that she passed,” said Mr. Betts. “They told me the day before she passed that she could only be seen once a week.”

COVID-19 and the restrictions on visitation have made life difficult for families of loved ones, particularly those in nursing homes, long-term care and senior facilities.

In Mr. Betts’ case, in-person visits were sporadic. Visitation rules fluctuated frequently, he said.

“It has been excruciating,” said Mr. Betts. “The ways to go about doing that changed almost every other day when it was available. It went from no visits, to maybe if you stand on the other side of the glass and make an appointment several days in advance, to ‘Oh, come anytime’ — and then no visitors except for one person a week.”

Mr. Betts has no animosity for the Manor House staff.

“They were friendly, but it was just the rules kept changing so much, it was very frustrating,” he said.

It was equally frustrating for Mr. Betts wife, Lynne Betts.

“For me it was heartbreaking … watching how hard it was for him,” said Ms. Betts. “So, all I could do was make sure that he had masks, make sure that he had sanitizer, make sure that I could support him as well as I could, because I couldn’t go in.”

“Even when she was just having window visits, with such a big family I didn’t think it would be fair for me to go, when her offspring wanted to be there,” said Ms. Betts. “So, I felt like the best thing that I could do was to support him.”

Mr. Betts said his mother had been in the Manor House for a number of years. She went from independent living, to assisted and ultimately to the sick ward of the facility on Middleford Road.

Mr. Betts said his mom had been in the sick ward section about a week and a half.

She did have the chance to visit her mother-in-law. “Probably about three weeks before she passed. It was quite unexpected,” she said. “We were planning to do a window visit, and the chaplain ushered into the room and we just kind of looked at each other like, ‘Really?’

“It is also I think good sometimes to have somebody who is not quite as connected,” said Ms. Betts. “Like I was able to sit with her a little bit, and ask her stuff that maybe her own kids would not be comfortable asking … acknowledging that what she was dealing with must have been very uncomfortable … and to see if there was anything that I could do to support her given the situation. The sad thing is that her memory wasn’t there.

“Even when we were allowed in the room, we were supposed to have masks and gowns and no touching,” Mr. Betts said. “When they are old and frail and getting close to the end, that contact is so important. I understand that some of the stuff is for the protection of the patients and the residents. To a great extent, I think they overlook the need for the support that balances that.”
For Ms. Betts, there is another front during the coronavirus crisis.

Her 83-year-old mother lives independently, in a house by herself, off Kirkwood Highway in Newark.

“She is a hard-headed Italian,” said Ms. Betts. “She wants to do everything whether she should or not. And her independence is extremely diminished.”

Mike Betts, in back, his mother Dusty Betts, and two of her grandsons, James and David, in January 2018 in her apartment at the Manor House.

Pre-COVID-19, Ms. Betts would go up about every week and a half and spend a night or two.

“With circumstances I haven’t been able to do that,” said Ms. Betts. “In trying to explain to her early on with the COVID, I was going to take her here and take her here, and for me to look at my mother and say, ‘No mom, we are not going to do that,’ and her saying, ‘What the hell do you mean?’ and then I say, ‘I am going to do this for you because I am afraid to take you out to do it.’”
When comfortable in taking her mother out of the house, there was an adjustment period.

“And that involves taking the walker,” said Ms. Betts. “During this COVID it is one thing to go out by yourself, mask up and sanitize, and it gets exhausting. But to be responsible for someone else to do it … that is scary.

“The first time I went up during this mess I said, ‘I need to know what you want; what you need from the store.’ She poo-pooed. When you have to get stern with your parent it is a little uncomfortable. It’s heartbreaking as the situation is with people who are in retirement homes. There is a whole different twist to it when they are not in there and helping to navigate COVID, too.

“It is really hard when I take mom to a doctor’s appointment and they tell me I can’t go in with her. She is legally blind, and she (has hearing issues). And she’s got a walker,” said Ms. Betts. “The first time … I pointed my finger at the assistant, and I said, ‘You either let me go in with her because — I fall back on the ADA — I am her reasonable accommodation. The first time they did that and every time since then they have allowed me — no matter which doctor it is — to go in with her to be that person.”

The first time she brought her mom out of the house was a trip to the nearby Rite Aid.

“Then we took her for a ride so she could see how the parking lots were empty and so many of the businesses weren’t open. She could see that this was serious, that I was using hand sanitizer before we went, that I was masking up, that we were going to take our own sanitizers in and do the cart,” Ms. Betts said. “And, then she wasn’t going to touch everything. To stand there and tell your mother,’ Don’t touch that unless you’re going to buy it,’ it seems like, ‘Am I really saying this to my mother?’”

A half-gallon of milk is wiped down before it enters her mother’s house and goes into the refrigerator.

“Because early on, you weren’t sure what to believe and what scientific thing to listen to, because you don’t know who to trust,” said Ms. Betts.

“We’ve lightened up a little bit but not much. Still, it’s those basic precautions. As soon as we got back to her house with carryout Mexican food, I said, ‘Don’t open that bag until you wash your hands.’ Of course, she rolled her eyes at me, like, ‘I’m going to wash my hands.’ She is 83 years old. It is a chore for her to stand at the sink. Of course, she knows to wash her hands. But I still call her out on it, because I know she will go in and sit down.”

Ms. Betts yearns for the time when there are more consistencies, understanding and compassion and less divisiveness during the crisis. She cites an excursion with her mother to get her mom’s eyeglasses tested.

The sign on the elevator said no more than two people at one time.

“Well, one of the store clerks got on and I got on with mom. I’m helping her navigate. When we get off, some woman said, ‘The sign says two people.’ I had had enough. I looked at her and I said, ‘Yeah, she and I count as one!’

“There is so much of that animosity,” said Ms. Betts. “I just would like to have a weekend with a bunch of happy people.”

Amid the changes in routine due to the pandemic, Ms. Betts says she has sensed depression and regression in her mother.

“That was visible with mom. I could see depression setting in early on when I said, ‘Mom, I am not comfortable coming up yet. You stay put. You’ve got everything you need there.’ I’ll slip under the radar,” said Ms. Betts. “She told me the other day, that she is going to die in that house. And I said, ‘Mom, that’s all well and good. Wait until I am here.’”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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