COVID-19: Amid Promising Numbers, Concerns Linger for LTC Residents

Mike Moen

DULUTH, Minn. — Minnesota officials say COVID-19 case numbers for the state’s long-term care facilities are trending downward. And senior advocates worry about the mental well-being of patients after months of increased isolation.

At one point in the spring, nursing homes accounted for roughly 80% of Minnesota’s coronavirus deaths. But the weekly average has fallen sharply since early June.

Even though some restrictions for visiting residents have eased, family members say other concerns have surfaced. Claudia, who asked not to use her last name, has a mother at a care facility in Duluth. She said after four months of limited interaction, there’s been a noticeable change.

“Her mental health is failing rapidly, noticeable by family and friends on the phone, and also a few that have finally been able to come and visit with outside visits,” Claudia said.

She said she understands that facilities need to keep limiting the spread of the virus, but she hopes the state and the industry find ways to keep strong safeguards, while also boosting opportunities for interaction, such as more community dining.

The state has been criticized for not acting soon enough in nursing homes, leading to lengthy restrictions. On Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz cited the lack of a national strategy on personal protective equipment, forcing a competition with other states.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan acknowledged the safety measures have been hard on seniors, while also noting that they still need to be mindful of how vulnerable older residents are to contracting the virus.

Mary Jo George, advocacy director at AARP Minnesota, said they want the state to maintain efforts to ramp up testing at long-term care facilities, given the threat of community spread.

“That could then mean the staff that are taking care of our loved ones could be more at risk for COVID, too, if we’re seeing a higher number of cases in the community,” George said.

The group is asking Minnesotans to keep pressuring state lawmakers to provide as many resources as are available to these facilities during the remainder of the pandemic. State leaders say the five-point plan they implemented in May, which included a focus on testing and distributing protective gear, has been helpful in limiting the spread at nursing homes.

On the evening of July 29 from 6-7 p.m., AARP Minnesota will host a live Telephone Town Hall with state experts. They will answer questions related to protecting, supporting and remaining connected to loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic. Registration and information is available at vekeo.com/aarpminnesota.