MT senior care centers react to Gov. Bullock's directive, allowing visitors to return

Posted at 8:37 AM, Jun 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-26 10:37:07-04

BOZEMAN — Gov. Steve Bullock announced earlier this week of a revision in COVID-19 regulations for visiting family members in nursing homes.

But there are still strict rules to follow to help keep the virus from reaching those most vulnerable.

For many since the beginning of COVID-19 -- visiting their loved ones at nursing homes, senior centers has been arguably one of the most difficult parts because they can’t -- until this week.

“Being able to sit down and [have a conversation], you just can’t do that through a window,” said Hyalite Country Care administrator and owner LeAnn Bunn.

Unless you are a health care or hospice worker, visiting fathers, mothers, grandfathers, and grandmothers has been nearly impossible.

While some have found a way to try from a social distance, whether it be by playing music from outside or waving from the street, in the eyes of Bunn, it’s been necessary -- but hard.

“Having no visitors is really challenging, especially for those who are used to seeing their families on a regular basis,” Bunn says. “The emotional health is almost just as much if not more important at this age than physical health, I believe.”

According to the governor’s updated directive, there are now options. For example, senior and assisted living facilities may now allow visitors, effective immediately -- if the facility has given notice to the recommended safeguards to residents and family members.

Bunn told MTN News she is looking for creative ideas to follow the revised guidelines.

“Having family members wear masks outside, having the six-foot distance, would be absolutely, totally beneficial,” Bunn says. “The family’s trying to say hi through the window and you just don’t have that ability to have that conversation through the window. I mean, it’s kind of a ‘hi’ and ‘how’s it going'?”

Residents have been following social distancing already -- just without visitors.

They’ve taken up gardening, including the flowers out front and visiting with Bunn’s friendly animals. And just this week, the Compassion Project stopped by, sidewalk chalk in hand, drawing large pictures of animals like elk and sandhill cranes on the facility’s driveway.

Meanwhile, the residents got to watch from the open garage doorway.

“The residents just lit up,” Bunn said. “Not only was the artwork amazing. I mean, these are almost professional artists but they just brought so much color and so much joy and they were just so friendly and just made them feel special.”

All are ideas that worked, but it's not the same as family visiting family, according to Bunn -- not through a window.

While workers and hospice staff have been going through the protocols, temperatures taken at the door, hands washed (and still will), Bunn says this is good news.

“There’s so many little things that make it so much easier to provide good, quality care and these people don’t know,” Bunn said. “It’s almost seamless, except for being able to see the families.”

Visitation should be conducted with strict screening, distancing, sanitation and other protocol, following the CDC’s rules.

Click here to view the revised guidelines.