In-person visits resume at Presque Isle nursing homes, but rules could change swiftly
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Nursing homes have been the location of some of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the United States. Yet, residents still have family and friends who want to see them, and soon may be able to in the Presque Isle area’s two locations.
Staff from Presque Isle Rehab and Nursing Center and Continuing Care in Mars Hill said they are beginning limited in-door visitations, albeit with several regulations. Even with restrictions, the changes could be a gamechanger for residents, who have spent months limited to interacting with their loved ones through a window or iPhone screen.
Across the United States, 268,000 nursing home residents have been confirmed to have COVID-19, while 62,000 have died from the disease since January, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Of the 301 confirmed cases in Maine, 55 have died.
Both facilities said they were closely following regulations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designed to prevent outbreaks seen across the country. Staff and residents are constantly being checked for COVID-19 symptoms, with frequent sanitization across buildings.
Karen Gonya, communications manager at Northern Light Health in Presque Isle, said that Continuing Care began doing visits by appointment last week. One person — or two if they are from the same household — can visit while donning facemasks and maintaining six feet of distance. Visitors will not be allowed to come in if they have COVID-19 symptoms or traveled outside Aroostook County in the past 14 days.
Yet, policies could change quickly with new conditions: Gonya said visits would be suspended if a resident or staff member tests positive for COVID-19.
Presque Isle Rehab and Nursing Home had previously only allowed residents to visit their loved ones through a window. Yet, with lowering temperatures, such visits are becoming increasingly untenable.
Administrator Mark McKenna said limited in-door visitations would begin within the next week. But he said such a program could be discontinued if there is a rise in community transmission.
Aroostook County has had eight active cases as of Nov. 1. It also has the second lowest rate of total cases for a county in Maine — The County has had 67 compared to Piscataquis County’s 11 — according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The in-person visits will be some of the first non-medical ones for the many residents in the facility: they are only allowed to leave for medical appointments, as is true for Continuing Care in Mars Hill.
Both locations also have contingency plans if residents test positive for COVID-19: they would be immediately isolated to keep them away from other people in the home.
One of the primary goals of nursing homes has always been to keep residents — many of whom may be suffering from medical conditions — safe in a controlled environment. For staff, the pandemic only escalates that goal.
“Our priority is keeping the residents safe while abiding by all regulations,” McKenna said.