Guest Columnist

'I feel like a convict serving a term and who has never been convicted'

What's the cost of isolating Iowa elders during the coronavirus pandemic?

The door to the repurposed long-term care wing in a health center in Cedar Rapids on Friday, May 29, 2020. (Liz Martin/T
The door to the repurposed long-term care wing in a health center in Cedar Rapids on Friday, May 29, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

My 92-year old father’s nursing home in Eastern Iowa is experiencing a second shutdown due to positive COVID tests by residents and after less than two months from the earlier closing. “Open” meant that some of the residents had a limited opportunity to leave their rooms for the first time since closing and to sit in the front vestibule or out on an outside patio deck. They still had to remain in their rooms unless scheduled for “an opportunity.” Opening also meant relatives could schedule supervised visitation appointments. Visitation was limited to two visitors sitting 6 feet from the resident with face masks and shields on, the resident with a face mask and for a short time. There was no hugging or embracing, social distances were maintained.

The new testing found eight residents testing positive, four for the second time! The source of the infections was a regular staff person who had no symptoms, not relatives or friends of the residents. How can 50 percent of the new positive cases be repeats? Per the CDC and multiple news outlets, repeat infections are extremely rare. At the home we have almost as many second infections as there are reported in the world.

I have seen my father only twice since March. He states “I have been locked in my room, unable to leave it. I have been taking my meals there and staring at the walls since the COVID lockdowns started. I feel like a convict serving a term and who has never been convicted!”

Dad personally has experienced COVID when he tested positive because of a staff member infecting him. He suggests that the policymakers might have good intentions with the isolation regulations but the regulations address only the physical health of the resident. Those regulations fail to address the emotional needs of residents for conversation and the interaction with peers and loved ones. While our elderly population located in homes is supposedly being physically protected (?) from COVID by confinement to rooms, residents are being subjected to emotional and psychological trauma by the isolation. Dad stated “No one asked the residents what they preferred, viral safety or emotional interaction?” After being locked 24/7 in his room for the last seven months, he suggests he is slowly losing his will to live because of the isolation.

I placed a question mark after my reference to physical protection in the preceding paragraph. Are we really protecting our elderly with the isolation regulations? Or are we torturing our older adults with emotional and psychological isolation in the name of “protecting” them? There are laws regulating emotional and psychological isolation of political, military and convicted prisoners. Why do those laws not apply to our elderly who are being restrained from living their remaining days enjoying the interaction with peers and family? Why do we abuse one of our most vulnerable populations, the very population that gave us our lives?

In closing, two issues for our leaders: 1. What is the real possibility of secondary infections? 2. When are we going to treat our older adults with the respect they deserve and provide them with the options to determine their own fates?

Joe Powelka lives in Sun Prairie, Wis

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