Nursing home visits allowed in-person at some senior living facilities as Illinois COVID-19 cases, deaths drop

NORTH RIVERSIDE, Ill. (WLS) -- Elderly grandparents, parents, and loved ones living in senior facilities are starting to get in-person, indoor visits now that Covid-19 cases have dropped sharply in nursing homes across the country.

On Thursday, Betty Hermanek, an 88-year-old resident at Caledonia Senior Living in North Riverside, had a chance to visit with her daughter face-to-face, albeit socially distant, masked up, and in a large room.

"Hi, mom! Good to see you!" exclaimed Marybeth Vavrik, Hermanek's daughter, throwing her arms wide open for an air hug.

"It's good to see you!" Hermanek replied.

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"How are you doing today?" Vavrik said, continuing with the conversation.

Vavrik spent months peering through her mother's window, using two-way radios to communicate. Because of Covid-19 protocols, there has always been a barrier between them. But not today.

"The fact that I can actually be in the same room with my mom -- no physical contact yet, but seeing her six feet away, knowing we're that close -- it's huge," Vavrik said, a wide smile across her face.

"I can see what she looks like, and actually hear her voice, how she's doing," Varvik added. "How's she's dressing. It's such a relief."

At Caledonia Senior Living, Vavrik must sign-up on the computer to schedule a visit, which are once a week. Once at the facility, strict protocols are in place to keep residents and visitors safe.

"Our approach throughout the crisis has been one of extreme caution," said Gus Noble, president of Caledonia Senior Living. "It's led to a great level of safety and success."

At Caledonia, Noble said 100% of the residents are fully vaccinated and 89% of the staff.

In fact, only one resident at Caledonia has contracted Covid-19 during the pandemic, Noble said. It happened one week after the residents got their first shots, and Noble said the infected resident, though hospitalized, likely survived because she had the antibodies from the first shot. When she was released from the hospital, Noble said she got her second shot as well.

No COVID-related deaths have happened at Caledonia, Noble said, attributing the overall success and safety to his team's approach.

"That's due to three things working together -- luck, the grace of a higher power, and the vigilance of our incredible staff here. People who live and work here are so heroic," Noble said.

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Across the country, COVID-related cases and deaths in nursing homes are down, suggesting the vaccines are working, according to a report by The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.

In December, during the pandemic's peak, nearly 6,000 residents were dying every week, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. By February, deaths were down to about 2,200 a week -- a 63% drop in less than two months.

Back at Caledonia, Hermanek's visit is a step forward, and her daughter haves hopes for the future, including taking her mom out for Mexican food when it's safe.

"Pretty soon we'll be able to take you out and celebrate all the occasions we've missed in the last year," Varvik told her mom.
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