COVID-19 Observer
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COVID-19 Observer

Church Livestreams and Porch Visits

By Alexis Van Horn

(This originally ran on Oct. 12, 2020.)

In a little north Idaho town, amidst rolling hills of golden fields, COVID-19 is only now beginning to pick up steam. While the death toll in Moscow, Idaho, is currently zero and the total number of infections is below 1,000, the social impacts have shaken the community to its core.

Photo credit: georg-arthur-pflueger-TeWwYARfcM4-unsplash

Moscow’s population fluctuates as University of Idaho students come and go and other residents range from young families to elderly empty nesters. Among the hardest hit by the pandemic have been those in long-term care facilities like those offered by the Good Samaritan Society, or “Good Sam,” as the community calls it.

Good Samaritan has two locations in Moscow, the Fairview Village Estates senior living community and the Moscow Village care center. As an evangelical Lutheran organization, Good Samaritan offers spiritual support along with mental and physical healthcare. Those assisted living options or under skilled nursing care have struggled most out of all Good Samaritan residents, Moscow Village Sales and Marketing Director Tammie Poe said.

“They’re basically quarantined to their rooms,” Poe said. “That’s really hard because they’re social people, they still want to be able to see each other and have interaction with each other, but we have to do this in order to comply with both the federal and state guidelines as well as to do our very best to keep our residents safe and healthy.”

Those in more independent living situations through Good Samaritan can leave their rooms, but they must meet a 7 p.m. curfew so they can check in and out of the front desk. Otherwise, they would be locked out. Both staff and residents have struggled with this rule, Poe said.

While these precautions have prevented Moscow Village from experiencing a severe outbreak — there have only been eight cases of COVID-19 among staff and residents, six of whom have since recovered — the lack of interaction with other residents, family members and care providers has dampened some residents’ spirits.

Good Samaritan residents are not alone in this experience. Disability Action Center NW, Inc. (DACNW) has provided services to disabled individuals throughout North Central Idaho since 1992. DACNW Executive Director Mark Leeper said one of the most notable concerns DACNW had noticed among those in long-term care facilities across the area was communication difficulties.

“We had folks that weren’t all that technologically up-to-speed,” Leeper said. “We had to dig in and figure some things out. That’s been a big challenge for us.”

Most of DACNW’s work focuses on advocating for disabled individuals, providing peer-based counseling services and referring individuals to services they may need. For older adults, this can also mean aiding in the transition into or out of long-term care facilities, Leeper said.

When COVID-19 made its way to Moscow, DACNW’s interactions with long term care facilities like Good Samaritan dwindled, DACNW Independent Living Specialist Molly Sherpa said. This is partially because transitioning people out of long-term care facilities has been near impossible due to the lack of affordable housing options in the area. Instead, DACNW has used the CARES funding it’s received to buy technology like tablets and Wi-Fi hotspots for long term care facilities to help their residents reach loved ones.

“In a facility in northern Idaho, I was really struck by the (management) making every effort with their own personal cell phones to help residents stay in touch with family, spending their own time and resources,” Leeper said. “That was really cool to be able to say ‘well, no, we can buy a Kindle for these folks directly and if you can help us with them figuring out how to use it and so on, if they need access to Internet, we can do that.’”

Right now, Good Samaritan primarily interacts with DACNW through its medical equipment exchange program, Poe said. The Durable Medical Exchange allows those with temporary or permanent disabilities to find or donate items like wheelchairs, ramps and computers or phones to save others in the community money on expensive medical equipment.

Good Samaritan has focused on providing connection for its residents in other ways. At the start of the pandemic, Good Samaritan hosted themed dress-up days on Wednesdays. Interest lessened as the pandemic continued, though, so the staff is working to come up with new activity ideas. Church services have not been offered through Good Samaritan since March, although tech-savvy residents may be tuning into local church livestreams and podcasts, Poe said.

Good Samaritan has hosted other special events for residents, like three drive-by parades. This gives residents the opportunity to get some fresh air and wave to loved ones as they pass by in jazzed-up cars. Residents can also have porch visits with two family members at a time as long as all people involved in the visit wear masks and stay at least six feet apart.

“Because of the guidelines that we have to follow to keep (the residents) safe, they’re really not getting the interaction and the socialization that probably would be very important to them in terms of their mental health and emotional wellbeing,” Poe said. “The best way to describe it is the world has gotten a lot smaller.”

On the bright side, the pandemic has helped both Good Samaritan and DACNW better understand how to serve those in their care through teamwork and technology, Poe and Leeper said. While in-person visits may not be possible, connecting a long term care facility resident to their loved ones may be as easy as connecting them to a tablet and an internet connection nowadays.

“The lesson I’ve been learning is how important it is to really be there in the moment with the people that you’re around and to see them for who they are and be able to understand that any tension or any stress or sadness that they’re feeling is something that everybody is feeling,” Poe said. “We’re all in this together.”

Alexis Van Horn is a University of Idaho journalism student expecting to graduate in May 2022. When they aren’t reporting or writing, they’re probably playing Mass Effect, cleaning their apartment or listening to audiobooks.

This originally appeared on COVID-19 Wall of Memories on Oct. 12, 2020.




The Observer uses human stories, medical news, trends and culture to tell the story of COVID in America. The Observer is the news page of the website

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