The pandemic has taken its toll on the elderly in KELOLAND. Nearly half of the 1,888 South Dakotans who died were long-term care residents. However, the measures to protect those very residents with isolation, have also caused both psychological and physical harm. It may not have had to be that way for many elderly people in facilities. Some families now believe their rights as caregivers were violated and there is a current effort in the legislature to add more transparency to the process.
Some of the most haunting images of the COVID-19 pandemic portray the plight of the elderly. Social isolation has been shown to lead to an increase in falls, dementia, depression and death, just to name a few.
“So she’s totally immobile now. She used to walk. She cannot walk. She cannot even stand up by herself anymore. And it’s really sad,” Kathy Rhoden said.
Kathy Rhoden was allowed to visit her 92-year-old mother, Kathleen, once a week for 20 minutes in the nursing home as long as they were six feet apart and supervised.
Kennecke: How hard has this been on the both of you?
Rhoden: My mother feels like she is in jail and she would really like to pass instead of being in this situation. We don’t feel like COVID is the thing that’s going to take her down. She had COVID and got over it and she did fine.
“There is no light at the end of the tunnel. So when do I get back to get in my mom’s apartment? When do I get to take her to the doctor? Now we aren’t talking about when do I party with mom? When do I take her to restaurants? When do we take her to the theatre? We’re not talking about social. We’re talking about essential care.”Vicki Franzen of Rapid City on her elderly mother in assisted living
Vicki Franzen’s 85-year-old mother, Nancy, suffers from dementia and is in assisted living. Prior to the pandemic, Nancy went to all of her mother’s doctor’s appointments as her health advocate. But after COVID-19, Franzen was told that an aide would have to accompany her mother to all appointments, or her mother would have to quarantine for 14 days.
“At one of her appointments, the aide that took her, was tested positive for COVID the following day,” Franzen said.
Franzen says the facility determined that her mother was not exposed by the aide.
Franzen: An aide can test positive for COVID, have all their protective equipment on and it’s a non-exposure, but I can’t.
Kennecke: So in other words, you couldn’t put on the goggles and the gloves and take her to her appointment instead of the aide?
Franzen: Well putting all the puzzle pieces together, yes.
Only later, Rhoden and Franzen both learned that their situations may have been different. According to South Dakota’s reopening plan from the Department of Health, they could have been requesting essential and compassionate caregiver visits since June.
“But until we had access to these documents, actual access–to the reopening plan, families didn’t know that they could advocate for these particular visits for their loved ones.” Janet Jensen said.
Janet Jensen is the wife of Rapid City lawmaker Phil Jensen. She is a health advocate for her elderly mother-in-law and behind legislation currently making its way through Pierre that would require more transparency by assisted living facilities.
What the bill does is that it allows for transparency, It’s a bill about compassion. It really provides information to the families that the assisted living facilities may be using in order to limit or restrict visitation,” Janet Jensen said.
“I had no idea I had a right to be there as an essential care giver, helping her and making decisions. That would have helped her tremendously if I could have been there with her; her emotional, her physical and her mental state. She lost her roommate. She lost several people,” Rhoden said.
“I didn’t ever want to see this happen to anybody again. I didn’t want anybody to have to go through this with their parents,” Franzen said.
The bill that would require that assisted living facilities create and post visitation policies has already passed the South Dakota House and passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee unanimously on Wednesday. It now goes to the full Senate for a vote.
Lobbyists for South Dakota health care organizations originally opposed the bill, but they say new amendments to it have eased their concerns.