Caregiving through COVID

Categories: Care Partners, Living with Dementia|By |Published On: |

Daniel Gaetano shares his experience caring for his wife, Janet, during COVID-19

Daniel Gaetano connects with his wife, Janet, over video chat. Photo by Emily Thomson, courtesy Bethany Riverview.

Daniel Gaetano connects with his wife, Janet, over video chat. Photo by Emily Thomson, courtesy Bethany Riverview.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, family caregivers have seen their relationships with people in long-term care homes rapidly change. Emerging restrictions mean visiting residents has become increasingly
difficult — if not impossible — while fears of outbreaks in care homes are a real concern.

For Daniel Gaetano, this fear became a reality when a confirmed case of the virus was reported at his wife’s Calgary residence.

“You want to be there so you can see for yourself what’s going on,” he says. But you have to take what they’re saying and [hope] they’re doing a good job.”

When Janet Gaetano was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2010, it began a major life transition for both her and Daniel. While Janet lived fairly independently for several years, her escalating care needs led Daniel to leave his job in accounting to focus on her care. Eventually, the decision was made to transition her into a care home. In February 2019, at the age of 61, she moved to the newly built Bethany Riverview.

For the first year, Daniel made nearly daily visits, usually through the morning and into the afternoon to help with and share breakfast and lunch with Janet.

“You want to be there so you can see for yourself what’s going on, but you have to take what they’re saying and [hope] they’re doing a good job.”

— Daniel Gaetano

“I still felt the need to be with her,” explains Daniel. “After I stopped working, basically that was my reason for being — to be with her and to be the person to care for her.”

Screenshots courtesy Daniel Gaetano.

Screenshots courtesy Daniel Gaetano.

In early March 2020, concerns about the spread of COVID-19 had begun to escalate and it emerged that older adults, especially those living in care homes, were part of the demographic particularly at risk for the virus. On March 23, Daniel received notice that, to help keep residents safe, visitors would no longer be able to enter Bethany Riverview at all.

On April 14, Bethany Riverview announced that one staff member had tested positive for the virus. Luckily, Daniel says, while the staff member worked on the same unit that Janet lives on, the two did not come in contact. Janet was tested for COVID-19 in late April and her results came back negative. At time of publication, three residents and three staff members had also been infected, but have all since recovered.

Although Daniel says he is confident in the care offered by Bethany Riverview, concerns naturally remain. “There’s not anything that I can do. So, you wait to hear and hope that it’s going to stay the way it is,” he says.

Daniel is hopeful that the situation prompts the hiring of more full-time health-care aides and fewer casual employees working in multiple residences at the same time. Before COVID-19, having employees work between many care homes often meant inconsistent care for residents, but for many part-time and casual employees, the practice is often essential to make a living wage. During the pandemic, the practice
appears to have contributed to the spread of the deadly virus to a particularly vulnerable population.

On April 10, Alberta’s chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw ordered all staff working at multiple long-term care facilities to restrict their work to one site to limit possible spread.

Daniel notes that while COVID-19 has brought the issue to the forefront of conversation, he’s always felt strongly that measures should be put in place to help ensure employees are able to work full-time at a single facility and, in turn, offer more personalized care. “I was always a proponent of that,” he says. “There should be the same people working at the same place. But with this pandemic, it really reinforces that.”

In the midst of the pandemic, Daniel says being alone has allowed his mind to wander, and he’s felt grief and loss in heavier waves than usual. To keep himself socially connected, Daniel has put together an unofficial schedule to check in and chat with family and friends regularly. He also says the relationships he’s made with management and staff at Bethany Riverview have been helpful, as he is able to quickly get information on Janet’s condition.

Beyond updates, Daniel says being able to see Janet, even if just virtually, has also been a refuge. Bethany Riverview has an iN2L touch screen monitor system that, along with allowing residents to engage with activities like movies and bingo, includes Skype capabilities. Since the lockdown began, Daniel has been able to schedule twice weekly video chats with his wife. Seeing that Janet is well has helped remedy his worst worries.

“Your imagination and your worries can take you down a really deep hole,” says Daniel. “When you see her in the video chat, and you can see that she’s smiling, she looks healthy, she looks alert, she can hear you and, in Jan’s case, she’s able to try to say things, you know then that she’s in good spirits. It gives me the ability to see that she’s okay.” [ ]