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Family struggles to maintain bond with father isolated in long-term care with COVID-19

By Jed Boal, KSL TV | Posted - Jun. 27, 2020 at 9:54 p.m.

SANDY — A West Jordan family is trying to maintain a bond with their father, who is isolated in a long-term care facility and was diagnosed with COVID-19 three days ago.

Thousands of Utah families have struggled with the vast and varied impacts of COVID-19. In many situations, loved ones have been isolated from their families for months because of the virus.

Long-term care facilities across the country have had a tough time keeping the coronavirus away. To do that, they’ve had to keep families out, away from their loved ones when they need them the most.

That can be agonizing.

“We haven’t seen him face-to-face since March,” said Jamie Gordon.

She and her three children have not seen her 45-year-old husband, Jaren Gordon, since COVID-19 hit Utah.

“His frontal lobe is pretty much gone. So, he acts like a child,” Jamie Gordon said.

Thirteen years ago, Jaren Gordon was diagnosed with a rare brain illness called Metachromatic Leukodystrophy, which causes dementia and makes him behave like a toddler. He also has type one diabetes.

When she could no longer care for her husband, Jamie Gordon moved him into Sandy Health and Rehab a year ago.

“I didn’t know what I was going to come home to after work, and I just couldn’t do it anymore,” she said.

Then, when Jaren was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Tuesday, Jamie’s fears intensified.

“That he would get it (COVID-19) and die fast,” she said.

So far, the only symptom he was showing is a moderately high fever. He cannot even understand that he has COVID-19.

The nursing home successfully kept the virus out until the end of May, and the family feels good about the care he’s getting.

But as of Friday, 40 residents and 20 employees at the facility had tested positive for COVID-19. Three of the COVID-19 positive residents have been hospitalized. The rest have been quarantined in the same wing at the facility.

Except for a couple of visits at the window and a video chat Tuesday, the family has had no contact with Jaren Gordon for more than three months.

“It’s hard,” Jaime Gordon said. “It’s really hard because I was his caregiver for how long? Even when he was there (at the nursing home), I was still caregiving.”

Nineteen-year-old Ashlyn Gordon said it’s taken a toll on her to go without seeing her father for so long.

The couple’s 21-year-old daughter, RaKelle Gordon, hasn’t had a good face-to-face conversation with her dad since November.

“I think the window is harder for him because he doesn’t really understand why we’re outside, and he’s inside,” she said.

Their father has even mistakenly quipped that they don’t love him anymore, but that was just some of the confusion brought on by his illness.

“When I was a kid, I was a daddy’s girl,” Gordon said. “I knew him before he was like this. So, it’s hard, not being able to see him at all.”

Their father has been acting like a child since 16-year old Braxton Gordon was a child. He misses his father in a different way.

“I went from babysitting him for hours a day and seeing him every day to seeing him four times a week, and now I don’t get to talk to him at all,” he said.

He now understands just how serious the virus is.

“People joke about it until they have to deal with it, and it’s not funny anymore,” he said.

Yet, it is often the laughter they get from Jaren’s child-like behavior that keeps them going.

“If we didn’t laugh, we would probably be crying all day,” Jamie Gordon said.

The family appreciates the regular updates they get from the nursing home. but with visitation restrictions in place for such a long time, it’s a real challenge for the family.

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Sandy Health and Rehab statement

The following is a statement issued by Sandy Health and Rehab regarding COVID-19 in the facility.

We do wish to express our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the two residents who died. Our staff was quite attached to those residents and it was difficult for them also.

Here are a few thoughts regarding the spread of COVID-19 at Sandy Health and Rehab:

1. Please note that we have been fully transparent from the very beginning and have been posting regular updates to keep the public informed regarding the status of COVID-19 in our facility. While there is currently a Federal mandate to be transparent, we began that process long before it was mandated.

2. Sandy Health and Rehab has been in constant contact with the Utah Department of Health and the Utah Bureau of Epidemiology regarding how to contain the virus within our facility. The Utah Department of Health sent the Utah National Guard Mobile Unit (whose task is testing and infection control) to inspect our secure wing and they approved of our management of the wing. They (National Guard) have provided most of the testing at the facility.

3. All residents and staff have been tested multiple times if their first test came back negative.

4. Much is still unknown about the virus, e.g., how easily it spreads through the air, how infectious asymptomatic COVID-19 POSITIVE people are, etc. I believe that when we know more about the virus, it will become apparent why it spreads so easily—even when all precautions are taken.

5. If a person is COVID-19 POSITIVE and asymptomatic, but has not been tested—there is no way to know if they have the disease and the virus can be spread very easily.

6. About 50% of residents in nursing homes have some level of dementia. Combine that with the fact that it’s unlawful to restrain them in any way—and you have a combination that makes it easier for the virus to spread. Residents can essentially do what they want—when they want—which includes the freedom to follow instructions or not follow them, e.g., handwashing, maintaining distance from other residents, etc. Nursing home workers can only use persuasion skills to ask residents to follow guidelines.

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