For the Elderly, Protection Comes at a Cost
Ann Harvey resides at an assisted living facility in Tampa. Like
other residents there and at similar facilities throughout Florida,
COVID-19 has forced her into quarantine since mid-March.
An order signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis prohibits outside
visitors from entering these senior centers, and imposes other
restrictive measures designed to protect the vulnerable elderly.
So, Ann, who is battling cancer, takes pleasure in other things—
like a trip to the nearby Moffitt Cancer Center for chemotherapy.
"It's good to get out," she said with a laugh. "But when I come back, I'm quarantined in my room for 48 hours." The protective measures are necessary because of the approximately 6,100 deaths in Florida related to COVID-19, more than 2,700 were residents or staff members at senior care facilities.
But for the elderly, that protection comes at a cost. Isolation, loneliness, and fear can be byproducts of months without outside contact.
Rev. Gary Rideout, Senior Pastor at St. Andrews UMC in Brandon, is also the facilitator of the Florida Conference Beyond 50 Ministries. He says, "It is important that they stay secluded and quarantined, but from what I've seen they also are the ones who most need to go to church, but they can't. They need the most visits, but we can't visit them. When they're sick, we can't go to the hospital with them."
Although some churches that have reopened their sanctuaries for worship, many of them recommend that anyone 65 years or older stay home. For those elderly who are tech-savvy, logging on to streaming services offered by most churches is some comfort. But it's not the same, and seniors who can't use a computer or tablet for Zoom calls or worship services may feel abandoned.
There are other issues as well. "Some of these senior citizens may have dementia and not understand why no one will visit them," Rideout said.
Charlie Thrower, 92, is a founding member of Temple Terrace United Methodist Church. He moved into assisted living in late 2019, a couple of months before the pandemic struck with full force. He tries to stay positive during long days in his room, punctuated only by brief visits to the lobby to check his mail or pick up a newspaper. Meals are delivered to his room, and visitors from the outside aren't allowed.
"Other than that, I stay put, but I'm hanging in there," he said. "I really don't have any great complaints. Everybody here is doing the best they can under the circumstances. But it gets a little old after a while."
Charlie's days consist of a lot of television, especially reruns of "Everybody Loves Raymond." He reads the newspaper "cover to cover" and watches news updates. "I'll be glad when this over so I can get back to church," he said.
Ann Harvey also is a member at Temple Terrace UMC. She sings in the choir, has appeared in church dramas and plays, and has an ever-present smile. The facility where she stays is restrictive, but visitors can drop by as long as they stay on the sidewalk and away from close contact. Every so often, entertainers perform on the sidewalk as well.
"But you know what I miss?" she said. "There's no touching. People are missing being touched. They miss their families and friends coming by. We're missing human contact.
More information about lonely senior Methodists in senior care facilities is at this link.