State task force discusses gradual re-opening of long term care facilities

Valley seniors at Legacy Retirement
Posted at 7:05 PM, Aug 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-18 21:48:53-04

Long term care facilities in Arizona have been locked down due to COVID-19 concerns for more than 6 months now. Some briefly re-opened their doors to allow visitors back in after Governor Doug Ducey lifted the shutdown orders, but then quickly locked down again when numbers started surging in Arizona.

Now, with no end in sight to this pandemic, many long-term care residents and their families wonder how long they can go on for, with visits limited to seeing each other through barriers of glass.

"I know people who have died of broken hearts. It is so sad," said Leah Propst, a valley senior who lives in a long-term care facility. Propst left an emotional voicemail for ABC15, pleading for help and asking people to speak up for them, and be their voice.

When ABC15 reached out to Leah, she said she wanted to make sure seniors like her were not forgotten by the state.

"That is the hardest part. I can't hug anybody. I can't be hugged by anybody. I miss life, because this is not living," said Propst.

Stuck inside her retirement community apartment for more than six months, the only way many like Propst have been able to see their families has been through barriers of glass or over the Internet using Skype or Facetime.

"The hardest part is feeling like I'm in prison. If you talk to somebody... you have to talk to them through glass. Isn't that what you see in all the prison movies? Through glass," said Propst.

She was grateful to have her dog as a companion and said she had taken up knitting. The facility Propst lived at, the Legacy Retirement Residence, in Mesa houses those in assisted living and memory care units as well. The executive director told ABC15 they realize the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on their residents.

Over the last few months, the facility has tried to organize many activities to keep residents engaged, such as exercise classes and bingo, but they have been limited in what they can do due to COVID-19 restrictions. The priority has been to keep residents and staff safe.

Leah described the staff there as wonderful, and knew they were doing what they could to keep them engaged.

"It is just the loneliness. It can make you crazy. Time is so long; it drags out so long," said Propst.

She added that she once enjoyed staying up late to catch her favorite television shows. Now, she puts herself to bed at 6 p.m. just to get the day over with.

A few weeks ago, Governor Doug Ducey's office announced they were putting together a task force that would work to come up with a plan on safely re-opening long-term care facilities. The task force consists of community leaders, senior advocates for the Area Agency on Aging, family members, and staff from long-term care facilities.

ABC15 has learned the task force has met a couple of times in the last month and have a message into the Governor's Office to find out how long it could take to come up with a plan to allow visitors back into long term care facilities.

Propst says she hopes they will consider her pleas. "Please, get it done now. Make it your number one priority. Make us a priority. I know we hear the term 'vulnerable adults.' We are vulnerable in all aspects of our lives," said Propst.

"I want to point out these are not prisons, and we need to make sure residents can enjoy their autonomy as much as possible," said Arizona state representative Jennifer Longdon, during a task force meeting of a specially formed group of stakeholders to discuss the re-opening of long term care facilities.

A spokesman with the Governor's office tells ABC15:

"We understand the importance of staying connected during this pandemic, especially with loved ones being cared for in long-term care facilities. The Task Force on Long Term Care has been meeting weekly for the past three weeks."

ABC15 listened in on the governor's state task force for long term care facilities Tuesday, where Colby Bowers, with the Arizona Department of Health Services stressed the need for allowing compassionate care visits for terminally ill residents in long-term care facilities immediately. He also urged long-term care facilities to allow those visitors who could show a negative COVID-19 test result taken within the last two days, into the facility, provided the person had self-isolated after taking that test.

Bowers stressed the need for visitors to abide by facility rules when it came to wearing masks and social distancing, and stated facilities should have the flexibility of designating a special room or area for these visits to take place.

The task force will meet again next Tuesday to discuss reopening guidelines and work on putting together a draft proposal that facilities can use while coordinating a safe and gradual re-opening.