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Long-Term Care Residents See Hope Returning After Vaccination

oretha_playing_bingo.jpg
(Kateleigh Mills/KOSU)
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Oretha Trotter (center) playing bingo at The Mansion at Waterford Assisted Living.

More than one million people live in long term care facilities in the U.S., and the COVID-19 quarantines have made the last year a long and lonely one as many nursing homes closed to visitors. But many residents are now fully vaccinated, and hope is returning.

The Mansion at Waterford Assisted Living in Oklahoma City houses residents who are used to being independent for many of their needs. Before the pandemic, residents would often meet with family and friends to go out for shopping or to a restaurant. The facility also regularly brought in entertainment for residents, movie nights and other services that gave time for socializing. 

But when the pandemic really hit a year ago - this facility's leadership decided to go into full lockdown to the outside world.

Khallida Marshall runs the personal assistants and campanions department for the facility. Marshall said when the pandemic hit, friends and family were no longer allowed to visit in-person.

Typically, residents in long-term care facilities are also at the age which make them more vulnerable to COVID-19. This vulnerability meant they were often kept in their rooms for containing the spread of the virus. 

Marshall said the lack of in-person family and friend visits throughout the year took a noticable toll on residents. She said the staff paid extra attention to the resident's mental and physical health. 

"We all had to pitch in so that we can get to the individuals individually to let them know they were cared for and loved, because at this age, depression kills," Marshall said. 

Marshall said they also had to get creative when thinking of how to provide activities to residents while making sure they were socially-distanced.

One activity that was on hiatus for a month at the start of the pandemic was bingo. Marshall said they brought it back and played with residents in their doorways for a couple months - calling the numbers down the halls. 

One of the bingo players is 82-year-old Oretha Trotter. 

She said when the pandemic locked residents like her in, it seemed like everything was going to be okay at first. But, she said the isolation made her angry that she couldn't go out and do the things she enjoyed - like her own grocery shopping. 

"That [lockdown] made a lot of us depressed. Because, you know, when you can't have a hug once in a while, just the feeling of a friend or a relative to put their arms around you once in a while - you miss that," Trotter said. 

And then, several months into lockdown - Trotter said she got severly sick and was rushed to a hospital where she was diagnosed with COVID-19. 

"My brother picked me up and brought me back here and they put me to bed," Trotter said. "I don't remember another thing after that."

Trotter said she still deals with health issues from COVID-19. 

"I was told I was so severely sick that they thought I was going to die and they called in hospice so they could take care of me," Trotter said. 

After Trotter slowly recovered and had the chance to get COVID-19 vaccine, she was happy to sign up. 

"You know, I felt more at ease by taking the shots," Trotter said. "I felt like that finally I could go to the store. I could go outside."

Larry Lee is the Director of Nursing at The Mansions at Waterford Assisted Living. He said nearly all residents at the facility have completed their COVID-19 vaccines series. He said that accomplishment has led to some big changes at the facility. 

"If they want to go out and get their hair done or whatever they want to do, when they come back they don't have to be quaratined anymore." Lee said. "They are able to just come and go as they want as long as they wear their mask outside in public."

Lee said getting the vaccines have allowed residents and staff to see a light at the end of a particularly difficult year. 

The facility has also recently allowed family members to come and visit in open areas, as long as they're masked up and are not displaying any signs of COVID-19. For the past year, the only visitations that were allowed were on a case by case basis if a resident was either severly depressed or was expected to pass away. 

The state's latest weekly epidemiology report shows Oklahoma long-term care facilities saw more than 13,000 cases of COVID-19. Those cases combine both resident and staff numbers. The report shows there has been a total of 1,224 resident deaths and 12 staff deaths attributed to COVID-19. 

The same report also found that The Mansion at Waterford Assisted Living has had 21 cases of COVID-19 and two deaths. 

As for bingo - it is no longer in a hallway, but on the first floor where friends are masked up and playing together at the same table. 

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