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Thanksgiving In Isolation: Finding Ways To Comfort Loved Ones In Long-Term Care Facilities

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- This Thanksgiving will be yet another tough day for people living in isolation in long-term care facilities.

More than half of the group homes in Minnesota currently have COVID-19 outbreaks, affecting residents and staff. Restrictions have tightened again, meaning in most places that residents can't leave for Thanksgiving or have visitors.

Jim and Clara Hansen have a lot to be grateful for. The sweethearts raised their family in Grand Forks, where Jim was a sports writer.

"Basically, I was a poor Sid Hartman [laugh]!" Jim Hansen said.

At 91, he has seen a lot, but COVID is a first.

"Basically our lives have changed," Hansen said. "They will never be the same."

And Thanksgiving won't be the same either. For the first time, he won't be able to eat with the family -- or finally meet the newest family member. Instead, they will have a family conference call.

"We can visit with the kids and grandkids and it will be fun, it will be different but it will be fun," he said. "It's what you want to make of it."

Like many facilities, Farmsted and the other Presbyterian Homes are on a no visitor/no leave lockdown. Jess Drecktrah is vice president of life enrichment at Presbyterian Homes.

"Just figuring out how to stay connected without that physical connection has been a challenge," Drecktrah said.

But they've gotten creative, with an in-house channel for workouts, bingo and church services.

Drecktrah says to reach out to any family members, teachers or old neighbors who may be in long-term care. And the best way to keep seniors looking forward is to talk about the past. She says bring up memories with a call or letter.

"Any contact at this point is meaningful because isolation is a real thing, and it's a killer as well," Drecktrah said.

The staff at Presbyterian Homes say there is a major staffing shortage in the industry. The Minnesota National Guard has been called in to help cover shifts at long-term care homes.

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