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Michigan nursing home residents get first in-person visits in months

For two residents at Martha T. Berry Medical Care Facility in Mount Clemens, their first in-person reunions with loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic doubled as birthday celebrations. 

Nursing home staff set up 6-foot-long tables in a spacious room, decorating for the occasion Monday with purple, silver and magenta balloons. Nicole Carr, who turned 48 one day earlier, sat in her wheelchair across the table from her mother and brother, Cindy Miramonti and Chris Carr. The three sang "Happy Birthday" and then belted the Polish birthday song "Sto lat."

Martha T Berry Medical Care Facility resident Nicole Carr (left) sits on the end of a 6-foot-long table during a visitation from her mother Cindy Miramonti of Clinton Township and her brother Chris Carr of Ferndale in the Community Room of the Martha T Berry Medical Care Facility in Mount Clemens on July 13, 2020. (Photo: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)

“I just wanna give you a hug!” Miramonti exclaimed after her daughter took a big bite of a cupcake. 

There could be no touching  — none of the hugging or hand-holding that Miramonti and Nicole Carr are accustomed to — out of concern for COVID-19. But after four months of only seeing Carr through a window, Miramonti and her son said Monday's 30-minute visit in person brought back, to a certain degree, the intimacy with her that they've been missing during the pandemic. Carr suffered a stroke eight years ago and has aphasia, and it has been challenging for her to communicate with loved ones through a tinted window while talking on the phone.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on June 30 eased restrictions on visits to long-term facilities that had been in place since mid-March. In-person visits are now allowed with residents who are in serious or critical condition or hospice care. Additionally, family members and friends may visit facilities to assist residents with activities of daily living. 

Staff at Martha T. Berry planned the facility's first family visits this week thanks to a section of the MDHHS order that permits visits for people whose doctors determine their well-being is at significant risk and recommend visits as a possible intervention. 

"Overcoming that loneliness is incredibly important," said Kevin Evans, executive director at Martha T. Berry. He said staff, no matter how caring and skilled, can never substitute for the love of a relative. 

Visits to nursing homes are by appointment only. Masks are required. Visitors have their temperatures checked and are asked about any symptoms of COVID-19. There's no sharing of food. Only two visitors are allowed per resident. 

A little fresh air helps

Some visits happen outdoors. Judy Armbruster got to see her 88-year-old mother in person, in the patio and garden area of Sunrise Senior Living in Grosse Pointe Woods, last Wednesday.

"It was good for her to get outside. It was good to see her in person, without looking through a screen," said Armbruster, who has visited her mother daily from outside the assisted living community since long-term care facilities were locked down in March.. "It was great. It was good. It felt normal ... It was reassuring that she is OK."

Armbruster said they brought her mother out in a wheelchair; and she and her caregiver both wore masks. She said she and her brother sat across a table from her mother. The caregiver was nearby in a corner, by her mother, to make sure proper procedures were followed. She said it was nice to visit with the caregiver, too.

The family trio talked about things going on in the world. The coronavirus. How her mother was feeling and if she needed anything. They talked about a relative who graduated from college. And family.


Armbruster said they are allowed one in-person visit a week, with their next one scheduled for Thursday. 

She said her uncle also is at the assisted living community but is in a 14-day quarantine since he just arrived July 3 from short-term rehabilitation. Like her mother, he's on the first floor, so she can visit him daily from the window.

"They appreciate the visits so much. It's more than worthwhile going," she said. "It's good for them, and it's good for us."

The simple things help 

Mary Shuboy's mother, 80-year-old Barbara Binnall, has dementia and Parkinson's disease. They ate cupcakes Monday, two days after Binnall's birthday, with Shuboy's daughter, Sarah, at Martha T. Berry. Shuboy hoped that by removing her mask to eat, her mom would see her face and maybe recognize her. 

“I haven’t seen her since mid-March, and that’s a long time when your parent has dementia," she said, adding that her mother's nurse has been a "rock star" for arranging FaceTime calls beyond the window visits. 

Shuboy said she was grateful for the in-person visit, but she wished they could have celebrated in the fashion her mom would have truly enjoyed: with a burger and a beer at the bar.

Two tables away, Nicole Carr, her mother and brother laughed and took photos from across the table.

A staff member came to wheel Carr back to her room. Miramonti, both elated and saddened by their short time together, told her daughter she'd talk to her later that night.

"I love you," she said to Carr.

Then it was time for them to leave so an employee could sanitize the room for the next family.