After A Year Of Isolation, Families, Long-Term Care Residents Reconnecting

Mar 23, 2021

Nan Mogensen, center, is now vaccinated and can spend her birthday with her family. Pictured behind her is her son Jonathan Gray, left, granddaughters Shannon and Shaila Gray, daughters Shelly Christensen and Lisa Olson.
Credit Rebecca White/SPR

Many living in long-term care facilities have spent the last year in isolation. But as more and more people are vaccinated, families can reconnect and see their loved ones in person.

After a year of missed holidays and milestones, Nannette Mogensen is celebrating her 84th birthday with her family.

Mogensen is now fully vaccinated and lives in Touchmark, a senior living facility on Spokane’s South Hill.  On Sunday, her three children and two of her granddaughters surprised her.

“Happy Birthday, mother, I love you,” says Shelly Christensen, Mogensen’s daughter.  

“I love you too, sweetheart,” Mogensen says.

Mogensen and her children still had to wear masks and take precaution, but said finally seeing each other in person was a gift.

“It’s amazing this can happen, thinking of where we’ve been,” Mogensen says.

Mogensen spent her last birthday alone in her room, as the state rapidly transitioned into lockdown. She and her children and grandchildren talked over the phone, or over video chat often, but her son, Jonathan Gray, said it still wasn’t the same.

“Not that your zoom face wasn’t great, but in person it's much better,” he says.

Last week Governor Inslee announced that indoor visits would be allowed if either the visitor or the resident of a long-term care facility was vaccinated.

John Ficker, the executive director of the Adult Family Home Council, said the last year of isolation has been very hard on both long-term care facility staff and residents.

He said trying to talk on the phone or over video chat can be very difficult for residents who are hard of hearing, have impaired vision or cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s or Dementia.

“I just don’t think there are enough words to express how important it is for these folks who are going to be reconnecting,” he says. “You’re telling the story of that family, and I don’t even know that person, and I’m getting choked up listening to you tell that story.”

Robin Dale is the executive director of the Washington Health Care Association, another advocacy and trade organization for long-term care facilities.

He said many facilities are now allowing visitors as their residents are immunized, but he said they should still take precautions.

“We’re in a place right now where, with the variants, we still have to be very careful,” he says, “Ultimately, we’re going to get there, everyone will be safe, but this is just the beginning of the re-opening process and we need to move cautiously, and carefully to make sure we’re protecting everybody.”