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Families seek more information on loved ones at nursing homes

Serena Magosky of Joliet (right) is pictured with her mother, Andrea Magosky, shortly before nursing homes started restricting visitors.
Serena Magosky of Joliet (right) is pictured with her mother, Andrea Magosky, shortly before nursing homes started restricting visitors.

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Serena Magosky of Joliet knew the inevitable was coming – that her mother, Andrea, would die from COVID-19 complications

So, she began making arrangements for her mom’s cremation.

On Friday night, when Serena was talking to her mother's nurse on the phone, Andrea suddenly became non-responsive.

"The CNA came out of her room and said she just passed away," Serena wrote in a Facebook message.

Andrea Magosky, was receiving long-term care at Alden Estates of Orland Park for about a year for issues relating to diabetes and her liver.

Andrea had previously lived in assisted living at Joshua Arms in Joliet, Serena said. Serena said she wishes her mother had received testing for COVID-19 sooner.

In early April, Andrea was coughing while talking to Serena on the phone, but Andrea just brushed it off, because she said her roommate had a cold. A few days later, Andrea collapsed and was taken to Palos Hospital, where she tested positive for COVID-19.

“They should have tested her,” Serena said. “If her roommate was sick, they should have gotten her out of there.”

Andrea initially felt better with treatment but then declined and refused medication, Serena said. At first, Serena pleaded with her mother to fight – until she understood this is what her mother wanted.

Serena said Palos had been wonderful to Andrea. She only wishes she could have held her mother’s hand while she passed.

Families like Magosky’s in Illinois are having mixed experiences when it comes to receiving updates on loved ones who currently are in nursing homes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and some people would like to see greater transparency.

Trish Jandeska of New Lenox said her mother-in-law has been a resident of Sunny Hill Nursing Home in Joliet since June.

Jandeska couldn’t be happier with the care her mother-in-law has received since visiting was restricted.

The family does window visits with her – with everyone talking on their cellphones. The family was able to bring cake and presents to Sunny Hill for their mother-in-law’s birthday.

Jandeska said none of these methods replace face-to-face communication, but her mother-in-law is the type of person that’s always “made the best of every situation.”

It helps that Jandeska’s mother-in-law doesn’t have memory issues and can communicate via technology with her family, Jandeska said.

Jandeska said Sunny Hill does a wonderful job of communicating with families through social media so families have up-to-date information on the COVID-19 crisis.

Sue Markgraf, formerly of Joliet and now Mundelein, however, said her mother has dementia, is receiving hospice care at Sunny Hill, and would like all nursing homes do a better job at communicating to families about their clients, even if a communications professional needs to be hired for this role.

“I believe it’s the facility’s responsibility to provide the means and the methods for communication with the loved ones at this time,” Markgraf said.

Markgraf said none of these issues are easy to address. And figuring out ways to connect families with their loved ones when the loved ones have memory issues can be especially difficult, she said.

“But facilities should be looking at them and addressing them and using this time to decide what works and what doesn’t,” Markgraf said.

Alden Estates and Sunny Hill did not respond to phone messages.

At a statewide level, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said they are working on getting information out regarding the nursing homes.

“I think there might be some delays in keeping up with that, but [we’re] working on that,” she said. ”We’ve talked many times from here about how difficult it is to control outbreaks in these congregate settings ... It’s a little bit hard to distance and segregate and isolate when you’re in a confined space.”

Ezike said the department has been employing aggressive measures to identify people who are the carriers.

“Of course, right now, in congregate settings, with visitation being essentially nil, it’s staff that probably are bringing in the virus,” Ezike said. “We think that if we can identify staff members who are positive, maybe they don’t know they’re positive, then we can get ahead of them potentially infecting the people that they’re charged to work with.”

AARP Illinois has a list of questions for people to ask if their loved ones are in a nursing home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These are asking if anyone in the nursing home tested positive for the virus; what the nursing home is doing to prevent infections; if nursing home staff have the personal protective equipment they need to stay safe and keep their patients safe; what the nursing home is doing to help residents to stay connected with their families and loved ones;what the plan is for nursing homes to communicate important information to residents and families on a regular basis; and if the nursing home is currently at full staffing levels.

Bob Gallo, state director for AARP Illinois, said the organization has also made some policy recommendations to the governor’s office about improving transparency at nursing homes. These include having the state make sure nursing homes are reporting COVID cases among staff, patients and others, and posting these numbers and updating them daily online. Gallo said they had a good response from the governor’s office and the Illinois Department of Public Health on this.

“Unless there’s a policy change at the state level, there’s nothing any particular individual can do to force a nursing home to give them the information they need,” he explained.

Gallo noted that while people should be sensitive to the conditions nursing home workers are dealing with right now, they still need to be transparent and accountable to families and their residents, who need to know what’s going on.

“How do I know if the virus is prevalent where my grandmother or my mother or my aunt is?” Gallo said. “Those questions have been coming up, and the answers to them up until this point have not been satisfactory.”

During an appearance on "The Rachel Maddow Show" Friday night, Gov. JB Pritzker said his office would post a database of all the nursing homes in the state and their coronavirus case and death statuses.

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