Ninety-three-year-old Marge Williams has resided at Heritage Manor for about 2-1/2 years and most of her time there has been quite happy.
About three months ago, however, the assisted living facility began isolating residents in their individual rooms. Since then, Williams' niece Diane Johnson says, her aunt has suffered from the restraints on her mobility.
“I really feel so strongly that it’s not just my aunt, it’s all of them. Something needs to change for them,” Johnson told the Union-Sun & Journal.
Johnson painted a picture of her aunt Marge and friends sitting in individual 12-by-14-foot rooms with adjoining bathrooms, all alone except for staff visits. Residents dining together was struck from the menu 11 months ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Western New York.
Before the never-ending quarantine, Aunt Marge had been quite active, going out for dinner and getting her hair done every Friday.
“She knows her days are numbered. And she hates living this way,” Johnson said.
Amy Cavalier, communications coordinator for DePaul, the non-profit organization that owns the assisted living facility, confirmed the situation at Heritage Manor in a reply email to the Union-Sun & Journal.
“When lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 are identified, residents remain in their rooms for a 14-day period for their safety and well-being,” Cavalier said. “If additional cases are identified, a new 14-day period begins when the new case is identified. We have experienced this scenario since December and understand this is challenging for our residents and their family members.”
Johnson said she doesn’t blame the staff for her aunt’s unhappiness and talked fondly of the days before COVID-19.
“It used to be that every person you met behind that counter (at Heritage Manor) would have a big smile and the laughter going on, it was just one of those types of facilities," she said. "My aunt, when she walked in two-and-half years ago, she just knew she wanted to be there.”
Johnson said her aunt knows the staff is doing everything they can, but their hands are tied. She does not want to leave Heritage Manor, she has been treated very well there, but practically perpetual isolation is not helping her.
"She's an extremely active person, so this might be harder on her than other people," Johnson said. "Her whole life is visiting other people."
Johnson feels strongly that the needs of people like her aunt shouldn't be swept under the rug. She wants to do whatever she can to help ensure that the treatment of her aunt's peers is fair and maximizes their well-being. Families shouldn't give up on their loved ones, she said, using her aunt as an example of how engaging and alert our elders can be and why action should be taken to help them during the pandemic and after.
“There’s lots of evidence out there of what happens to elderly people when they are broken away from society and other people," Johnson said. "That’s just a general, factual knowledge about the deterioration of their mental faculties. Some people will say, ‘Well, she’s 93-94, what do you expect?’ But it’s not fair.”