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Living through the pandemic: The unimaginable strain on long-term care facilities

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an unimaginable toll on our elderly population especially those in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. 

The virus is particularly dangerous for seniors, and in order to keep it out of these facilities, many issued lockdowns restricting all visitors. 

This led to creative ways for families to keep in contact with their loved ones at a safe distance called “window visits.”

While it may seem odd talking through a window, it’s the new normal for 92-year-old Dorothy Slivicki at All Saints Assisted Living facility. 

“We have types of technology nowadays that can keep me going but it’s not the same as a person…I haven't been able to hug anyone,” said Slivicki.

On March 16, All Saints was put on lockdown, meaning no visitors allowed inside, which left residents isolated in their rooms. As weeks went on, the only in-person interaction they had was when a staff member delivered their meals.

This is a reality for thousands of seniors in Wisconsin -- watching the pandemic unfold from their rooms. 

“We all saw on the news how many other nursing homes and assisting living facilities were having people passing away… it’s scary,” said Slivicki. 

All Saints was one of the lucky ones. Out of 58 residents, they’ve had no positive cases of the coronavirus.

According to new federal data, 36 nursing homes in Wisconsin have reported more than 120 COVID-19 deaths. State officials report 129 investigations at nursing homes with one or more positive cases of COVID-19, as of July 1. 

Slivicki understands why the restrictions are in place, but she worries about her family and the severity of the virus. 

“Is it frightening? Yes, of course, because you feel helpless because there really isn’t a good treatment for it,” she said.

But through the sacrifices, Slivicki had her fair share of visitors along the way. Her daughter Susan would visit often by her window and other family members would virtually visit through Skype. 

“It (means) everything, it truly is everything because our family is very close, and even though we are scattered from River Falls to Chicago to Milwaukee and Madison they check up on me,” she said.

Connecting residents to their loved ones through technology or a window was a part of a transition for employees at All Saints. Activities Director Tammie Linscheid said it's had its challenges.

“I would sit in on many Zoom visits where they wouldn't maybe understand where their loved one was at ... they're in their home and you're here and we’re all safe,” said Linscheid.

In June, restrictions started to be lifted. Families can now schedule visits with their loved ones outside the facility, 6 feet apart, but hugging or even sharing the same materials is still strictly prohibited. 

As some counties, including Dane, experience a spike in COVID-19 cases the fear of going backward looms.

“There's a possibility that everyone could be taken away and having to go back just viewing through a window,” said Linscheid. “The last thing I want to see is anyone of them on a respirator.”

When asked how Slivicki feels about the potential threat, she said she’s remaining optimistic, saying she always tries to find the good during trying times. 

I think when you get as old as we are, you go through a lot of things and you have to say you know this too will pass,” said Slivicki.

“I think when you get as old as we are, you go through a lot of things and you have to say you know this too will pass,” she said.

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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