Before nursing homes restricted visitors, Julie Sullivan used to go sit at lunch with her mother and her friends at the Westport Place Health Campus, and push all the tables together “so we could have a big party.”
Since three weeks ago, when nursing homes had to start restricting visitors, she takes her place instead each day outside her mother’s window.
Shirley Sullivan moved into Westport Place the week before the Kentucky Derby last year. She turned 90 in September, and Julie and her siblings, Tom, Katie and Maureen, were frequent visitors. But they haven’t been inside since the order. Instead they visit every day from outside, standing between the bird feeders they installed there. Julie says it can be like watching a mini-gladiator match, and Shirley can watch the birds just like she used to, before Westport.
On a sunny afternoon last week, Julie took a recorder to capture her visit with her mother, since Westport wouldn’t allow media on the property.
The two can see each other, but they can’t really hear through the glass. They stand on opposite sides talking on their cell phones.
“How are you feeling today?” Julie says.
I didn’t hear you,” Shirley responds.
“How are you feeling today?” she shouts, louder.
Shirley said she feels better since she had a good meal: a BLT sandwich, chicken noodle soup and some blueberry brackle.
Jule asks her how it feels to be isolated in the nursing home with her children on the outside.
“It’s just hard, you know, when you want to be closer and you can’t,” Shirley said.
She concedes the window visits are better than nothing.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services passed down guidelines to nursing homes to limit group activities like eating in a dining hall. Nursing homes have also restricted activities like bingo. The residents at Westport can play in small groups to avoid residents coming too close to each other. Julie says her mother has always been a social butterfly, so missing out on time with her friends has been the hardest restriction to get used to.
“It’s kind of a pain in the neck, you like to see your friends and talk to them,” Shirley said. “But if it’s going to save anybody getting sick then it’s worth it.”
Every visit, Julie takes a picture of her mom smiling through the window to post on Facebook. The posts have developed a bit of a fan club over the past few weeks. On the day of this visit, Shirley is wearing a bright shirt with pink flowers on it, perfect for one of the first nice days of spring. She tells her daughter about bingo, which had only three or four participants but she still somehow didn’t win.
Even though the nursing home offered to set up video chats for family members, Julie says the in-person visits make her feel better because she can see the care the facility is providing her mother.
“Actually being able to look in the window and know that I’m just a few feet away from her, even though there’s glass in between us, is better,” Julie told me after her visit.
Julie said she planned to come back later that night, after the Governor’s press conference, to give her mom an update through the glass.
On Monday, Governor Beshear announced two positive cases of the coronavirus connected to a staff member and a resident at a nursing home in Campbell County.