SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — Some of Jan Blex’s favorite memories are from the kitchen, cooking with her mother and her daughter. All three generations of women appreciate “good food,” but Blex’s mom is the biggest Whataburger fan.
“She’s a Texas lady,” Blex said.
After making the difficult decision in Nov. 2019 to move her mom into a nursing home, Blex said her family began bringing by home-cooked snacks and meals, plus the occasional restaurant treat, to make her smile.
“That came to an abrupt halt on March 13, and we were not prepared,” she said.
Nursing facilities closed to “non-essential visitors” after the coronavirus began to spread among Texas’ elderly population. After months of watching through windows and communicating by phone or video chat, families began pushing for a plan for safe visitation.
In September Gov. Greg Abbott directed Health and Human Services to roll out new guidelines for visitation, including an “essential family caregiver” plan. Each resident can designate two loved ones who are allowed inside after receiving a negative COVID-19 test and completing infection control training provided by the facility.
- Find the full guidelines from Texas HHSC here.
They are required to wear a mask, but do not have to maintain “social distancing” from their loved one. State guidelines limit these visits to two hours at a time, and facilities can implement shorter time frames or other procedures as they see fit.
After 200 days apart from her mom, Blex became one of the first essential family caregivers at the San Marcos home.
“It was a very emotional walk to the room,” she said. “You know, they escort you to the room, and the moment literally brought me to my knees.”
Both Blex and her mother cried, as they embraced for the first time in months. Blex said she immediately noticed the toll the pandemic had taken on her mom’s condition.
“She recognized me, but she struggled to remember my name,” she said. “We hugged a lot. She cried, so I know she felt it.”
By the next visit, Blex said her mom remembered her name.
“Just such a good feeling. I felt some relief,” she said. “I just felt stress, like I couldn’t get my breath, worry and anxiety, and when I was able to wrap my arms around her, I felt so much of that go away.”
Blex works as a registered nurse, so infection control procedures come second-nature to her. Still, she noted these PPE and handwashing techniques should be easy for any essential family caregiver to follow.
“It’s not that hard: basic, essentials. Just like you would learn in nursing school” she said.
That’s why Blex hopes more family members will be given access, too, with the proper safety measures.
“She has two great-grandchildren,” she said. “I think seeing the little boys get to come in would bring joy to her, and to all the little ladies and men in the hallways.”
Health officials are still warning a “third spike” in cases in long-term care facilities could be coming in November.
“The number one factor in keeping COVID out of our nursing homes, so we can protect our vulnerable population, is reducing the level of the virus in the surrounding community,” said Mark Parkinson, President and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living. “We could still see another wave of COVID cases caused by the sheer volume of rising cases in communities across the U.S. given the asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread of this virus.”
Austin Public Health data shows hospitalizations of elderly patients are climbing. In a presentation to Travis County Commissioner’s court on Tuesday, Austin’s top doctor said recent spikes in cases among younger age groups are partly to blame.
“This is not over for our long-term care facilities,” Dr. Mark Escott said.
He noted that the cooperation of facilities and the local Nursing Home Task Force has still saved lives, but urged anyone planning to visit elderly families members to take extra precautions.
“I would strongly advise that for the previous 14 days prior to that visit that they are very protective of their interactions, that they not go to gatherings, that they avoid public places as much as possible to really limit the potential for spread to this vulnerable population,” Escott said.
Blex said she had been in isolation long before the new guidelines were implemented, in order to “be ready when the time came.” She’s still very vigilant, but hopes to see expanded visits soon.
“Let people test. Let’s follow the guidelines. Let’s get them some love back in their rooms,” she said.