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'So close and yet so far': Limited in-person visits once again allowed at some Colorado assisted living facilities

Randy and Terry Jenson got to visit their mother, together and in-person, for the first time in-person since the COVID-19 began.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — More than the brick walls, glass doors and numerous windows of her home, COVID-19 is the real barrier between Marilyn Jenson and her family.

Jensen, 89, lives at Good Samaritan Society – Fort Collins Village, an assisted living facility in Northern Colorado.

Like most congregate living facilities across the state, residents there now live with new restrictions during the pandemic.

“We talk on the telephone a lot; we text,” Jensen said. “Even at my age, they taught me how to text!”

Until now, two of Jensen’s children, Randy and Terry Jensen, have only been able to visit virtually, through a window, or outside when the weather was warm. Her sons have not been able to go inside their mother’s facility to visit in-person since before the pandemic began.

In recent weeks, Good Samaritan began allowing families to visit in-person, indoors again – with limitations.

First, facilities allowing visitations must follow current state guidelines, which include:

  • A two-week positivity rate below 10% in the county where the facility is located.
  • No recent COVID-19 outbreaks at the facility.
  • The facility must meet testing requirements and have plenty of personal protective equipment (PPE) and staff.

RELATED: State will help speed up long-term care facility vaccinations

Most of the residents, 95% and staff 85% at Good Samaritan Society - Fort Collins Village have now been vaccinated, including Marilyn Jensen.

Still, families must meet a list of additional requirements before an in-person visit is allowed at the facility.

Visitors have to make an appointment and clear a health screening and temperature check. Once inside, family members must wear a mask and stay six feet apart from the resident. A staff member will stay with the family to monitor the visit and COVID-19 precautions.

Her sons and daughter-in-law joined Jensen in the same room on Thursday.

“This is the first time I’ve been in the same room with [all of] them,” she said with a long table between them. “I just wish I could go over and give them a big hug.”

Her daughter-in-law felt the same way.

“Bittersweet. I wanted to hug her so bad,” said Tricia Jensen. “So close and yet so far.”

It’s been a long, challenging year for older people in congregate living environments. They are the most vulnerable to COVID-19, but the cost of protecting their health is often isolation.

“You could hear it in her voice when we would talk to her,” Randy Jensen said. “She would be really upbeat when we call her, then the next time, she’s really, really down. It was because she couldn’t get together with her friends.”

Marilyn Jensen said she was thankful for the staff at her facility who have found creative ways to help families connect and provided the residents with company and care during the pandemic. She also credits her faith as a source of peace and strength.

“There have been times, yes, I have seen anger. I have seen sorrow,” she said. “But I go talk to God, and that brings me back to where I should be.”

Her sons said the pandemic showed them what family members previously took for granted.

“I would generally be out here two to three times a week. I was her transportation to doctors’ appointments. We’d make trips to the grocery store,” Terry Jensen said. “Then, all of a sudden, you can’t do that. It’s one of those things, kind of funny but, I’m looking forward to being able to take her to the grocery store again.”

The state guidelines for visiting nursing homes and assisted living centers have not changed since many of the residents who live in these facilities started getting vaccinated. 

A media spokesperson from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) offered this statement in an email Thursday about any plans to adjust those guidelines in light of the vaccination rates now.

“We know many families have been profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are committed to working as quickly as the federal vaccine supply allows to vaccinate as many Coloradans as possible to alleviate restrictions and end this pandemic. We are awaiting information from CDC and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) about whether and how recommendations for visitation may change.”

Now that his mother and others her age are vaccinated, Terry Jensen said he hopes her access to others will increase again.

“Their mental health now has got to be a priority,” he said. “They’ve taken care of their physical health. They’re vaccinated. The mental health part of it – to get them back to where they can be with loved ones, to get them back to where they can be with friends, has got to be a priority.”

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