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‘That’s hope’: In-person visits return at senior living facilities

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ruth and nancy2
Nancy Enderle and her mother Ruth Hutchison, visiting together at Attic Angel
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Jodi Hollis and father Wilbur Hollis, at New Glarus Home

Almost everyone found themselves stuck at home at the start of the pandemic, but that isolation hurt seniors more than most, as their homes went on lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

"It was like somebody put us in a box and closed it," said Ruth Hutchison. "It was rough. Really, really rough."

The 91-year-old lives at Attic Angel, a senior facility in Middleton. She had nightly phone calls with family but the isolation of living alone in her apartment was almost too much to handle.

"It was a tremendous burden to feel like I couldn't get there and help out with some of the things I knew were troubling her," her daughter Nancy Enderle said.

They were able to see each other a few times when the weather warmed and Attic Angel built plexiglass barriers for families to see their loved ones. But it wasn't until late March 2021 when the facility was able to reopen to in-person visits.

"You can't really describe it," Enderle said. "It's just gratitude. It's a sense of relief. And yet, there's also a lot of sorrow, because you're aware of how much you've lost in the year."

That thankful feeling extends to families at New Glarus Home, too.

"Last Wednesday was the first time I was able to see Dad in person since the shutdown last March," said Jodi Hollis. "It was obviously very emotional. And just like, you know, really happy."

Jodi's father Wilbur Hollis moved into the facility just two weeks before the pandemic hit and everything shut down, so it was a difficult adjustment.

"At first we didn't get to visit, talk to each other, you know they'd come up here, you couldn't do nothing," Wilbur said.

They could only talk through the window.

"This whole time we've been just scared to death that we're never going to be able to touch and hug our dad again," Jodi said.

Jodi was grateful for New Glarus Home staff who threw Wilbur a birthday party and kept in constant contact about his health.

The facility has gotten through the past year of the pandemic with no cases of COVID among residents.

"I think by that routine testing we were catching the employees early enough," said director of nursing Patty Emberson.

That routine testing led to a delay in reopening for in-person visits this March, when a staff member tested positive. It allowed the facility to phase visits back in.

"So, we felt very secure that when we opened up the whole building, two weeks later, we were ready," she said.

Emberson hopes more workers at the facility will continue to get vaccinated to protect residents. Right now, about 85 percent of staff are vaccinated and all residents got the COVID shot, she said.

Attic Angel has similar vaccination rates, with 98 percent of residents and about 80 percent of staff vaccinated. The day of the first vaccine clinic was like a party for the team.

"It was the first time that staff and residents were able to actually gather together in a year. And so it was really like having an actual party. It was amazing," said staff enrichment coordinator and infection control nurse Carey Weiss.

Weiss said Attic Angel has been constantly adapting, following CDC and state guidance to keep the seniors safe.

"We're starting to open up. So, life is starting to be imbued back into this community and I'm hopeful things are things are looking up," Weiss told 27 News.

A return to in-person visits is a relief for everyone.

"That's hope. And oh, it's just wonderful to have the feeling," Ruth said.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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