FAMILIES STRUGGLE WITH RESTRICTIONS THAT SEPARATE THEM FROM LOVED ONE
PUBLISHED IN THE APRIL, 9, 2020 EDITION OF THE ADAIR COUNTY COMMUNITY VOICE
Emma Smith Rodgers, an 83-year-old resident at Signature Healthcare at Summit Manor, is the first confirmed Adair County resident to die from COVID-19.
County Judge Executive Gale Cowan confirmed the first Adair County death early Tuesday morning, April 7. Ms. Rodgers’ son, Josh Smith, shared his family’s story with the Community Voice that afternoon.
Rodgers had been a resident of Summit Manor for four or five years, Smith said. She had COPD, and her age and health factors put her in a high-risk category if exposed to the virus.
The nursing home learned of its first positive case last Friday. That night, Rodgers was transferred to Cumberland County Hospital along with several other nursing home residents who showed possible symptoms of the virus.
Rodgers’ family was not with her when she became ill and later died due to restrictions put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Visitation at the nursing home has been restricted for the past month.
“It’s hard to tell people what it really feels like when you can’t go and be there to see them,” Smith said.
As he mourns the loss of his mother, Smith said he is also angry.
“I’m not mad at our governor. I’m not mad at the caregivers. I don’t know how to explain it. I’m just mad,” he said. “Why can’t I get to go be with my mom? Knowing that you would like to be there and would like to be able to tell her you love her and tell her that last goodbye….It’s something I hope nobody else has to go through.”
Smith said the nursing home’s physician and nurses spoke with the family regularly and he had just spoken with a nurse an hour to an hour and a half before his mother died.
“She said she just came out of her room and her vital signs were good. Her fever was down. Her oxygen intake was good. She was a little confused but she was talking,” Smith said. “An hour and a half, I got the phone call she passed.”
Up until that moment, the family was told that testing for COVID-19 had not yet come back. By then, they were told the test was positive.
Now, the family is planning to say goodbye, but restrictions also affect how they can do that. Only 10 people can gather for a service, including funeral home representatives. In addition to Smith, Rodgers is survived by one daughter, Brenda Neat, their spouses, four grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.
“Since I came back from the funeral home today, I’ve been on the phone. We are a pretty good-sized family. It’s just me and my sister but I’ve been on the phone trying to figure out which 10, and I’ve got to tell a grandkid they can’t come,” he said.
FAMILIES FACE GREATEST FEAR
The nursing home moved a number of residents to the Cumberland County Hospital. On Friday night, a bus was used to transfer some of the patients.
On Monday, Ramona Barker, a regional nurse consultant for Signature Healthcare, took part in a live video with Mayor Pam Hoots and confirmed that one resident had tested positive. That patient and six others were transferred to a hospital, Barker said.
All of the residents who were transferred were tested and three tests had come back negative by Monday, Barker said. The other tests were expected back by Tuesday, which was when Rodgers’ case was confirmed.
Barker said Monday the facility is following CDC guidelines and elders are isolated in their rooms to the extent possible. Meal services in the dining room and group activities are cancelled.
Only essential staff members are working and CDC guidelines are being followed to determine who can work, Barker said.
On Tuesday night, families began receiving calls from nursing home staff reporting that all residents and staff are being tested for COVID-19. Just prior to those calls, Adair County EMS was called to the facility for a male patient who is COVID-19 positive. That resident was not among the group already moved to Cumberland County Hospital and was reportedly a resident in a private room.
Family members are sharing information and trying their best to stay informed about what is going on with their family members. They aren’t making the decisions for their loved ones now; they can only wait for answers.
Julie Hatcher’s grandmother is a resident at Summit Manor.
“It saddens me to think of how many patients in the nursing home have been exposed to the COVID-19, including the workers,” Hatcher said. “My grandmother is a 98-year-old patient there and it breaks my heart to think that we have been unable to see her for weeks now and if something happens that she contracts this virus that she will be alone without family by her side.”
Patricia Blair’s mother was one of the residents transported to Cumberland County last Friday night. They learned Tuesday evening a test for COVID-19 came back negative and are waiting for a second test, which the nursing home is requiring.
Blair said her mother tends to get a mild case of pneumonia three to four times per year and the family suspected that was happening two weeks ago. Her mother, Pauline Cheatham, was put in isolation. The family later learned that she was tested for COVID-19 but the test was not viable and another test was taken after she was transferred to Cumberland County.
Blair said she did not want her mother transferred because she was confident her mom was going through her usual symptoms and could be treated with antibiotics. She was not given a choice, however. When her mother was transferred, she had been in isolation for nine days.
Blair said she understands the physician was transferring patients out of precaution after they learned of a positive case at the nursing home, but she was concerned for her mother, who was transported on a bus to the hospital.
“If she didn’t have the virus they were going to expose her, no matter the precautions they were taking,” she said. “Me and my siblings were just scared, we knew they were taking a positive patient down there that night. It was so scary Friday night.”
While her mother has dementia, she understands a lot and Blair and her siblings are worried about how this is affecting her emotionally.
“She is down there in Cumberland County in a room with the door shut and very little contact with anybody,” Blair said.
The siblings have had a daily visitation schedule and, even under the current situation, have visited Cumberland County daily to visit their mother through the window.
“The worst part of all this for us is one of her children was with her every day. Now, we’ve not been for five weeks,” she said.
Blair said the physician has called the family daily and she tries to be as understanding as possible in the situation. Like the other families of loved ones there, she and her siblings are struggling with the inability to be part of their loved one’s life.
“Ms. Rodgers died alone. That’s awful. There are so many people dying alone. Eve if they are horribly sick, nobody can be there with them. My mother, even though she is perfectly fine, she is all alone. It breaks my heart that she is all alone,” Blair said. “All we can do is try to be understanding and hope and pray that everyone is doing the best that they can. Just keep praying that everyone can get through this.”
For Smith, he hopes the loss of his mother will be a reminder to others to follow CDC recommendations for social distancing and to look out for one another.
“I was preaching this stuff before she even went to Burkesville,” he said. “We have got to try to be safe.”
By Sharon Burton