JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When a Florida woman could no longer visit her husband with Alzheimer’s because of the state’s rules against visiting assisted living facilities, the couple was devastated.
Like other facilities, Rosecastle at Deerwood in Jacksonville closed its doors to visitors on March 11 to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to vulnerable patients.
After the closure, Mary Daniel says she tried to communicate with her husband, Steve, in several different ways, like speaking over FaceTime, but none worked out.
“My husband is not vocal. He talks a lot, but you can’t understand anything that he says, so the FaceTimes were extremely difficult. There is no exchange of conversation,” she said. “It was really a struggle to have any sort of connection with him.”
Mary says they also tried to visit at Steve’s window on two different occasions, but her husband cried both times.
“The last one was on Father’s Day,” she said. “I had to make the difficult decision not to do it anymore. I felt that it was really, really hard on him, that he almost did better without seeing me, so there wasn’t that realization that I wasn’t with him.”
Although Mary says she understands that restrictions are in place to help protect patients from coronavirus, she’s very concerned about the impact of isolation, especially regarding those with memory issues.
“Without that connection, their brains just wither away,” said Mary. “They need that stimulation of the brain to keep it alive. And that’s what’s happening in these memory care centers. We have separated them, because we want to save them, but this isolation is absolutely going to kill them.”
Desperate for a solution, Mary asked her husband’s facility if there were any other ways she could visit in person and, three weeks ago, they ended up offering her a job as a part-time dishwasher. She jumped at the opportunity and began training.
“OK then, a dishwasher it is. And I took the job.” she said.
Mary says she’s not just there “for fluff.” She does the hard work of doing the dishes, mopping the floor, cleaning the grill and taking the garbage out. It’s all worth it though, because after 114 days, she reunited with her husband.
“It’s 100% the real deal, but it’s so worth it,” she said. “Those two days, I’m able to go in and be with him. That’s the part that is so incredibly priceless.”
Mary says she visits for a few hours, during which she and Steve fall back into their same routine of watching TV together before they get Steve ready for bed.
Meanwhile, Mary has also started a Facebook group where she and others discuss what different states are doing to better care for people in assisted living facilities. It’s called Caregivers for Compromise.
“I really wanted to put something together where everyone had a centralized place to go and then we can take it from there,” said Mary. “We’re investigating what’s going on in other states. We’re putting together position papers that we want to present to Gov. Ron DeSantis.”
Their suggestions will include things like outdoor visits.
“Many states are doing outdoor visits, where you have to maintain 6 feet social distancing, you have to wear a mask,” said Mary.
The group is also advocating for “clean rooms,” areas where families meet one at a time and are disinfected after every visit.