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'Suffering in Silence:' How loved ones of nursing home residents dealt with isolation and loss

Part Five of WWL-TV's investigative series "Standard of Care," takes an in-depth look at COVID-19's impact on nursing home residents and their family members.

NEW ORLEANS — As COVID-19 tears through Louisiana’s nursing homes and adult care facilities, the residents and their families face life-or-death decisions, some about loved ones suffering in silence.

In Mid-March, when Gov. John Bel Edwards shut down nursing homes and adult care facilities to visitors at the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control, it drove a physical wedge between the residents and their families.

“One of the main things in terms of aging is that as we age we lose our family, we lose our friends. Isolation adds to an individual's demise,” said Howard Rogers, Executive Director of the New Orleans Council on Aging.

Many say it also halted the flow of information from the homes about the pandemic’s impact.

The situation has been dire for many. These are some of the stories of those impacted.

Joanne McConnon

“I, I need to see her. I need to see her. But there's nothing I can do —absolutely nothing,” said Janet Jordan.

Jordan’s mother, Joanne McConnon, 85, was placed in hospice care two weeks ago at St. Luke’s Nursing Home. She had beat COVID-19, making her way off oxygen after a tough battle with the virus. But she developed a bedsore, and the nursing home’s medical staff recommended transferring her to hospice care.

“It's like I feel like I've abandoned her, you know? And does she understand,” Jordan asked. She went on to say she had not gone this long without seeing her mother in 15 years.

Credit: WWLTV

“I hope her spirit lasts until this is lifted, so I can see her before she passes. I want her spirit still there,” she said.

Jordan finally got to see her mother from afar through an open window on Mother’s Day. McConnon at the oyster po-boy she brought for her.

Eliza Carter

92-year-old Eliza Carter remembers vividly the days she worked at the Pontchartrain Hotel delivering mile-high pies and smiles to people who dined there. Because of segregation, her family members say she never got to eat one, something they hope to change once the shut down is lifted, and they can visit their mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, once again.

While Carter remembers those days well, her son, Wilbert Carter, said she can’t remember what she ate for lunch. He said she won’t ask why he’s not coming to visit right now.

“She won't ask that because she won't remember,” he said. Eliza is battling Alzheimer’s Disease.

Credit: WWLTV

The family said Eliza loved to travel in her younger years, but now she’s relatively locked down at LaFon Nursing Home in New Orleans East. “She still says Cha-ching! Remember that? Instead of Who dat she says Cha-Ching,” her granddaughter Tiffany Carter said.

Eliza would freeze two cans of Schlitz beer to take to Saints games on Sundays.

“I love telling everyone I had my first beer at a Saints game with my grandmother--out of her purse,” Tiffany said.

Wilbert would visit his mother regularly, even though he would have to tell the same stories over and over again. He brought her Little Debbie’s fudge rounds cookies as a snack, something his mother always looked forward to.

“She remembers me and I was told, you know, that eventually she won't remember me. So that's why I try and see her as much as possible,” he said.

But for the past two months, he hasn’t been able to.

“Claire”

On April 3, a woman we’re calling Claire, lost her mother to COVID-19 at a local hospital. She asked for us not to use her real name.

Her mother had been living at Metairie Healthcare Center.

“It was just very, very stressful because I knew I couldn't go over there. You know, I could go and start banging on the door, but then they called police,” she said.

Claire said her mother’s condition went downhill fast.

“They called me around 8:00 and said, she's going to the hospital.  She's having trouble breathing and by 10:00, 10:15, the doctor called me and said she's only got 24 hours left to live,” she said.

The pain in her voice is palpable when she begins talking about her mother, desperate for one more phone chat, even one just talking about the weather. She said she found an extra Mother’s Day card in the stack of cards she keeps on hand and wrote it out for her mom.

They were as close. When COVID-19 started surfacing in nursing homes, Claire says she started asking the nursing home if it had made its way in.

“Every time I did call, were there any COVID patients? No. Are you sure? No, there's none,” she said.

Claire said she had no idea how many residents had died of COVID-19 at Metairie Healthcare Center until she saw the numbers in a WWL-TV news report Monday.

“I wanted to know what was going on. And it was like we were in the dark. You know, family members were in the dark.”

It was a dark time when Claire had to go to the hospital with her mother in distress.

“I was very thankful that I was able to be there with so many family members, could not be with their loved ones, and they had to say goodbye over the phone,” Claire said.

Dressed in full personal protective equipment, two pairs of gloves, mask, gown and face shield, she had a few precious hours with her mother when health care workers knew her mother’s hours were numbered.

“I did tell her, it's okay to go. I would be okay. You're gonna be okay, Mom. I love you. You're gonna be ok. It's OK to go. And that was the hardest thing I had to do. Then I wanted her to know that she could see the fear and terror in her eyes,” Claire said.

Judith Martin

Judith Martin is a resident at Chateau Living Center in Kenner and said she is starting to get cabin fever.

“The only way you can see your family is if they come to the glass wall,” she said.

Martin said administrators have not told the residents how many residents have tested positive for COVID-19.

“What we've been told is that the virus is here. That's exactly how it's been stated. The virus is here, but we have had no cases,” Martin said in an interview three weeks ago.

Credit: WWLTV

That was after the Louisiana Department of Health had reported a cluster of COVID-19 cases at Chateau. The agency stopped releasing the names of specific nursing homes and how many coronavirus cases they had in late March.

They have since said they plan to release the information next Monday.

“They keep disinfecting the buildings every day. We have the floors being cleaned. We have at least once a week. We have people who come in and hazmat suits and spray throughout the halls,” Martin said.

She said Friday she desperately hopes the fear and isolation end soon.

See more of the Eyewitness Investigative series Standard of Care:

MORE: 'Disaster Mode:' Death, outbreaks hit nursing homes hampered by lack of testing, protective

MORE: Small Kenner adult care facility had big problems with coronavirus, workers allege

MORE: 'Very likely chance if my dad had gone to a different veterans home he'd still be alive'

MORE: As COVID-19 tore through Louisiana nursing homes, these were hardest hit

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