Jones-Harrison infection preventionist: Grief is ‘a big piece of the stress we’re carrying’

The Southwest Journal is documenting the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. As the outbreak evolves, we will be checking in with the participants regularly. Read all of the stories here.

All interviews are conducted over the phone, and conversations are edited for length and clarity.

Barb Joyce, infection preventionist, Jones-Harrison senior living 

Things haven’t changed very much. We’re still in a holding pattern where we’re getting one or two positive tests every week. On one side of the coin, you can say, “Dang it, it’s still here.” But on the other side of the coin, you can say, “We have slowed this monster down.” 

The numbers are greatly diminished, and so is the severity of the illness. We still don’t have any new cases in assisted living, but this week we had the first case on our [long-term care] floor in awhile. We’re grateful that even these people who are testing positive are not sick, sick, sick. But that can change at any time. 

We’re also not seeing the dying like we were in the beginning. I don’t know why this is happening — it could be that the virus mutated — but I’m very happy for it. The period where a lot of people were dying rapidly was very disconcerting because this is our family, and we didn’t have the time to grieve. So that’s still a big piece of the stress we’re carrying as we work through this. 

Last week our goal was to get to zero cases, but this week our discussion has been: Is that even realistic as the community starts to open up and we start to allow visitations? As people do what they want to do outside of the facility, including going to the bars without thinking about masks? As the nation’s numbers are rising, people travel more and employees take vacations?  

We have to worry about all of that and prevent the virus from coming into our doors through the summer months. We’re creating a travel policy for employees’ vacations. Some will be asked to test before coming back to work — depending on if they’ve traveled on mass transit, if they’ve traveled somewhere with high incidence or if they’ve attended a wedding, a family reunion or a large gathering. 

We thought about canceling vacations. But look at how hard we have worked; we need them. 

With that said, I had to cancel my vacation. I was going home to be with my family and grieve with my family in California over the loss of my mother on April 21. But because California’s numbers are out of control or climbing, I just didn’t want to chance it. We decided as a family that we would postpone her memorial. 

Grieving is a very big thing. It’s kind of like a big lump that doesn’t go away until you go through the process. That’s what I am in need of, and I can’t get to it. I can only imagine others are feeling the same way. The lack of grieving, of funerals, of gathering with your families is another big psychosocial thing we just don’t know the ramifications of at this point. But it’s there. I can feel it. I can feel it. 

My family are all together in Orange County. They’ve had their social distancing time together, and I’m the odd man out because I live in Minnesota. I’m fearful that I’m going to go into the next wave and it will get postponed again. 

I am taking a week off, and my husband and I are going to go into the wilderness. We’ll do some hiking and biking — Duluth, maybe Wisconsin — just traveling the less traveled path around the park system. 

At Jones-Harrison, we’re trying to get back to our old normal. That’s a plus to the testing we’re doing. We feel safer knowing the tests are negative. 

So in our assisted living they are holding small group activities with five people or fewer. They’re socially distanced in some common areas where residents can spread out. Our chaplain is leading chats. Our therapeutic recreation staff are reading the news. It’s a way to be together and bring in some humanity. 

In our assisted living, they have opened dining again. We’ve reduced the number and increased the space between residents. They are definitely enjoying that. They get to see other people, they get to wave to other people. My uncle lives on this campus, and I get to see him from a distance and wave to him. So it’s definitely a good thing.

The new guidance we’re super pleased about is to allow pets into the facility, as long as they’re on a 6-foot leash. An animal can now come sit on our residents’ laps. A resident can pet this animal and love this animal and feel this tangible energy from this unconditional being of love — that’s what pets are. It brings the sensation of touch to our residents.  

Of course, if you give an inch, people want to take a mile, and I am in the same boat as well. I want nothing more than to go over to my uncle’s apartment and give him a haircut. But that’s still not allowed, so as to avoid cross-contamination. In my head, I’m probably one of the safest people to go over there, but I have to respect these boundaries, because the consistency is how the system works.


VOICES FROM THE PANDEMIC

 You can read all of the stories here.