Earlier this year, when coronavirus hit the United States, Dallas-based Buckner Retirement Services’ six continuing care retirement communities in Texas “acted swiftly” to limit visitor access and protect residents and employees, Senior Vice President Charlie Wilson says.

“But as the situation lingers, we are seeing another pandemic affect residents: loneliness,” he adds in a new video.

Researchers are discovering that continued isolation is leading to declining physical and mental health in residents due to a lack of social interaction, Wilson says, “and we believe as this isolation continues, things will only get worse.”

Some resident families have written to express their concern, he says. And now Buckner and LeadingAge Texas are suggesting another outlet for their letters: Lone Star State Gov. Greg Abbott and other state officials. On Thursday, the two organizations announced a new campaign encouraging members of the public to advocate for family members to be able to visit residents in senior living communities to combat the effects of loneliness and isolation.

Technically, under certain conditions, visitors are now permitted at assisted living and memory care communities and nursing homes in the state, but a recent order “is so restrictive and costly to implement that it effectively keeps most senior living communities closed to visits from family members,” Wilson says.

The visitation standards are “more rigorous” for nursing homes than for assisted living communities because assisted living residents generally are considered to be healthier, according to the Dallas News. As of Friday, more than a fourth of the state’s approximately 2,000 assisted living communities but only about 4% of the state’s roughly 1,200 nursing homes had applied to welcome visitors, the media outlet says. Ninety percent of assisted living applications reportedly have been approved, whereas less than 50% of the nursing home applications have been approved.

Buckner and LeadingAge Texas are proposing their own visitation guidance to officials:

  • All visits must be scheduled in advance.
  • All visitors must undergo rapid testing and pay for it.
  • Visitors must wear proper personal protective equipment at all times.
  • Communities must screen all guests at a central point of entry to the campus.
  • Communities must enforce strict social distancing.
  • Communities would have designated areas for visits that would be cleaned thoroughly after each visit, and where needed, communities would provide clear plastic dividers for the designated areas.
  • Communities would provide outdoor spaces for residents and families, weather permitting.

“I understand a move like this might seem risky, and it is something we would not have done weeks ago,” Wilson tells viewers of the new video. “But our increased knowledge of how we mitigate the risks to seniors, along with the advice of our six medical directors, gives us confidence that we can allow for this limited and strict visitation for those residents and families who are comfortable doing so.”

The “new normal” in the battle against COVID-19, he says, should not just be about addressing residents’ physical health needs; it also should be about meeting their mental health and spiritual needs. He’s counting on families that agree to back Buckner’s proposal.

Watch Wilson discuss the letter-writing initiative in the video below.