Nursing homes and senior centers across the Roanoke and New River valleys have closed to outside visitors, while in-home services are continuing to help homebound senior citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that people aged 65 and over should self-quarantine to avoid catching or spreading the virus. According to the Center for Disease Control, eight out of 10 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the United States have been adults 65 and older. Older adults are more likely to experience a severe illness and require hospitalization.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced March 13 that all nursing homes must prohibit visitors from entering the centers except in emergency or end-of-life situations. The federal agency also mandated nursing homes cancel all group activities and screen residents and staff for fever and respiratory symptoms.

“As we learn more about the coronavirus from experts on the ground, we’ve learned that seniors with multiple conditions are at highest risk for infection and complications, so CMS is using every tool at our disposal to keep nursing homes free from infection,” agency administrator Seema Verma said. “Temporarily restricting visitors and nonessential workers will help reduce the risk of coronavirus spread in nursing homes, keeping residents safe.”

Friendship Health & Living Community in Roanoke followed the announcement and closed its facilities to outside visitors beginning March 13. In addition, all buildings have one point of entry where staff are screened and have their temperature taken before entering, director of marketing Stephanie Landes said.

Outpatient services at Friendship South have been closed. Club Friendship, the on-site restaurant and bar, will be open on the Friendship North campus, but will only be serving takeout orders and internal campus deliveries.

Cherie Grisso, CEO of Richfield Living, said the community in Salem is taking many of the same precautions — staff is being screened prior to entering any building and deliveries are being left at the door. Any team member who may present a higher risk to the residents has been furloughed for up to 14 days, Grisso said in an email.

Grisso also said the community is trying to provide opportunities for residents to stay connected to their families and is encouraging communication via phone, email and video chats.

Ellen D’Ardenne, executive director of the Glebe in Botetourt County, said it was a difficult decision to restrict visitors, but it was necessary to protect residents. She said the community and families have been supportive of the decision.

“They are constantly thanking us for taking their health seriously and trying to do everything in our power to support them in their current living situation,” she said. “Families have reached out thanking us as well as asking questions, what they can do to help the community and staff to ease this uncertainty. It’s day to day and everyone is doing everything they can to keep some sense of normalcy in their daily lives.”

Warm Hearth Village in Blacksburg also has closed its Showalter Center, Carson Library and all apartment common areas to visitors.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, less than 4% of America’s population 65 or older live in group centers like nursing or retirement homes. Most live in households, some on their own, and many require in-home services to meet their needs. In the Roanoke metro area, 20% of the population is 65 or older, and that figure is 17% in the Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford metro area, both well above the state and national averages.

Home health service providers are making their own adjustments to protect their elderly clients amid the coronavirus pandemic.

InnovAge’s Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly provides in-home wrap-around services that allow seniors to age in place. Services include health care, specialty care, transportation, medication management, in-home assistance and social engagement.

Josh McGilliard, executive director of the Roanoke Valley chapter, said the program is well-positioned to continue its services during the crisis. He said the centers have been closed and the program has been able to extend most of its services to the home. Before entering anyone’s house, both staff and the participant are screened for symptoms via phone.

He said so far, the program has not had any inventory issues with medications or providing food through its nutrition program.

“We’ve had to transition a lot,” McGilliard said. “But we feel like this is the right model of care and the right response to keep these high risk participants safe in the community.”

The Local Office on Aging provides services to seniors living in the Roanoke Valley and Alleghany Highlands. Seniors can receive long-term care, transportation, nutrition counseling and delivered meals through the office’s Meals on Wheels program.

The meals program coordinates volunteers to deliver hot meals to homebound seniors who are unable to prepare their own.

CEO Ron Boyd said supplies are running low and some volunteers have had to drop out for their own protection. Many of the volunteers are seniors themselves, he said, and need to self-quarantine.

Because volunteers aren’t as readily available, Boyd said the program may need to be limited to the most at-risk seniors — those who have critical chronic conditions, are isolated and have the smallest social network.

In response, Boyd said the office has expanded its senior food box program to make sure its participants have plenty of shelf stable food in the event they are unable to deliver a hot meal. Staff is working hard to fill the boxes and get them delivered, but the office’s stock is depleted.

Boyd said the office is in need of items like plastic grocery bags, Carnation instant breakfast, canned soup, canned meat, crackers, peanut butter, canned or shelf stable fruit, canned veggies and oatmeal.

Boyd said people should also be doing well-checks on seniors they know — family, friends and neighbors — to make sure they have everything they need and can avoid leaving home.

“Make sure that they have their supplies, their prescriptions, just check on them,” he said. “Because a lot of their support is waning right now.”

Alison Graham covers Roanoke County and Salem news. She’s originally from Indianapolis and a graduate of Indiana University.

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