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Relieving Long-Term Care Isolation in Arizona

Mildred Price (seated), and her daughter Tonsa Price-Edwards at her mother’s senior care home in Scottsdale, AZ.
Photo by Cassidy Ariza

After more than six months of remote visits, Tonsa Price-Edwards, of Scottsdale, was thrilled to be there for her mother on her 89th birthday.

A former schoolteacher, Price-Edwards’ mother has dementia and lives in a small facility that began allowing limited in-person visits in September. 

“We sang Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday and some of her favorite songs and hymns,” Price-Edwards said. Although the visit, during which they socially distanced and wore masks, lasted just 15 minutes and required Price-Edwards to pass a COVID-19 test and quarantine for 48 hours, she said it was worth it. 

Preliminary statistics seem to indicate that Arizona has done a better job than many other states in preventing COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities. Strict restrictions, however, have taken a toll on residents and family members, who haven’t been able to see each other in months except through a window or on a screen. 

“We supported Governor Ducey when he closed down the facilities, but never did we imagine we’d see the unintended consequences of such loneliness and isolation,” said Dana Kennedy, state director for AARP Arizona. 

Guidelines for safer visits

That’s why AARP has been leading the charge to safely reopen care facilities to visitors. 

“We’re working to make sure our most vulnerable adults are safe but their mental health is protected, as well,” Kennedy said. 

In July she was named to the governor’s newly created Task Force on Long Term Care, which has a statewide mandate to set standards and practices for reopening care facilities. 

The group is made up of legislators from both political parties, public health officials and others, including advocates like Kennedy and family members like Price-Edwards, who was able to see her mother after following the new guidelines of a negative COVID test, passing a symptom screening, wearing a mask and socially distancing. 

“Without their intervention and letters and keeping up the drumbeat, it would not have happened,” she said.  

Steven Corman, 61, was relieved to visit his wife in person, after six challenging months of seeing her only through a window of a memory-care facility in Chandler. 

Corman was able to get a rapid-turnaround coronavirus test and followed the other precautions. Nevertheless, he said his wife, who is 65 and has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, was confused and frustrated that he had to be 6 feet away from her. “It was like a window visit without the glass.”

Consequently, he and others have urged the task force to establish a policy designating that one family member be treated the same as staff in terms of testing and social distancing. Kennedy said the task force is working on allowing in-person visits. 

AARP Arizona also continues to address other long-term care reforms. It is helping craft a policy agenda that includes reforms like those recently passed in New Jersey, which require better pay and more infectious-disease preparedness for staff. 

“Next year we’re going to introduce some bills that will offer long-term solutions,” said state Rep. Jennifer Longdon (D-Phoenix), a disability-rights advocate who also serves on the task force.

Update: Given the uptick in COVID-19 infections around the country, visitation guidance may change depending on state caseloads and other factors. Get updates at AARP's nursing home tracker.

Miriam Davidson is a writer living in Tucson, Arizona.

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