Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support our critical reporting on the coronavirus by purchasing a digital subscription or donating directly to the newsroom.
Louise Ridley hasn’t been able to see her mother at an Augusta rehabilitation center for several weeks since it restricted visitors to prevent the introduction of COVID-19. Now, after learning her mother is among the 63 residents and staff there who have tested positive for the virus, the distance feels even greater.
Ridley, of Manchester, feels especially removed because she and her family have received no clear message from the Augusta Center for Health and Rehabilitation on its plans for addressing the outbreak, she said.
Similar to what a family member of another center resident told the Bangor Daily News about a lack of communication, Ridley only learned there were COVID-19 cases at the facility from news reports.
She never got word her mother was being tested. Instead, the facility director called her sister on Sunday to say that her 82-year-old mother, Juliette Beaulieu, has the virus but is not showing symptoms.
Ridley’s family still doesn’t know how residents are being moved around the building to prevent the spread, what the sanitizing protocols are, whether there are enough staff, or whether it is too late to do anything at all, given that a majority of the facility’s 63 residents have the illness.
National Health Care Associates, the facility’s parent company, did not respond to requests for comment on Monday or Tuesday. Its website states that its centers are equipped for virtual visits and are “taking every measure possible” to protect residents.
“You would think they would put something in place and tell us what that is,” Ridley said, even if it’s to let family members know the facility will give weekly phone updates or post information online. “This is our mother we’re talking about. When you don’t get any information, it makes it worse.”
On Tuesday, a total of 63 of the facility’s residents and staff were confirmed to have COVID-19, an increase of eight cases from the day before, said Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tall Pines Retirement and Healthcare Community in Belfast has 24 cases. The Maine Veterans’ Home in Scarborough has 38 cases, an increase of six in one day, Shah said.
Ridley’s mother has experienced pneumonia at the Augusta facility in the past, has COPD and frequently coughs. Ridley wonders how often staff are taking her temperature to see if she remains asymptomatic and how they truly know she doesn’t have symptoms. What will happen if her condition worsens?
She has questions about the regular care her mother is receiving, such as whether Beaulieu is being helped out of bed in the morning and able to go to the bathroom regularly.
“What would you expect if it was your mother? Would you expect someone to take care of her and not wet the bed?” Ridley said. “We have a mother who we are not allowed to go see to check up on and make sure she really is OK.”
Beaulieu had a stroke that left her paralyzed on one side, but she can still speak and enjoys going outside. She gets frustrated when she can’t get fresh air in the morning, or there’s no one available to help her, Ridley said. She still has use of one arm, so she can feed herself, but staff have to use a lift to get her out of bed.
Ridley worries about more than her mother’s physical wellbeing, she said. There are caring staff at the facility, but they can’t fix the emotional anguish of isolation.
When Ridley’s sister called their mother on Sunday night to tell her she had tested positive for COVID-19, their mother “melted down, was really struggling with that,” Ridley said. Then, when Ridley called her mother on Monday, she showed signs of the forgetfulness that come with being 82. “She said, ‘I don’t have it. I’m one of the lucky ones.’ And we just left it at that.’”
Watch: Should you remove loved ones from care facilities during the outbreak?