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'I've never missed her more:' As pandemic drags on, Idahoans struggle with long-term care facility visiting bans

It's been months since Davi Pachner of Boise has been able to hold her mother's hand, or give her a hug.

BOISE, Idaho — It's been months since Davi Pachner of Boise has been able to hold her mother's hand, or give her a hug.

Sixty-two-year-old Chris Wickmark, who was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2012, lives in a long-term care facility where visitors are currently prohibited due to concerns about the vulnerable residents becoming infected with the coronavirus. 

Since the shutdown on visitors went into pace in March, Pachner has had to visit her mother only through the window at Cascadia of Boise.

“We’ve been as impressed as we can be with the care that she’s received, but it’s just really hard not to have that physical in-person connection,” she said.

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Pachner is not alone.

Visits to long-term care facilities were prohibited back in March when Gov. Brad Little first announced a stay-at-home order. Although some restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic have since been lifted, Idaho has been held in Stage 4 of the reopening plan since June 13 after repeatedly missing metrics needed to move forward. Officials said Thursday that Idaho's 14-day average of new cases is now at 575.93, the highest since the pandemic began.

But Pachner says the prohibition on in-person visits leaves people like her mother at increasing risk of social isolation.

“She can’t talk, so she communicates with an eyegaze device, but even that has been kind of tricky lately, so it’s been really hard to pick up on here subtle eye movements or subtle facial expressions,” Pachner said. “I just want to figure out or know a way to safely conduct those visits without having to worry about our most vulnerable population.”

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Idaho Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, brought up the same concern at Central District Health's last board meeting. Like Pachner, many of her constituents want to find a safe way to see their loved ones in person.

“After the meeting I had a lady reach out to me and she has a group and they’ve been actively working on ways that they believe will make visits safe: Disposable masks, gloves, gowns, foot coverings, making sure you go to and from your loved one’s room,” Blanksma said.

Blanksma, the vice-chair of the Board of Health, says she has been pushing CDH to come up with guidelines that could allow visits to nursing homes and long-term care facilities to resume. A plan to do so will be presented to the Board of Health by Oct. 27, she said.

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“We have the PPE, we have the COVID money, we should be facilitating this kind of visitation if we can,” she said.

For now, however, people like Davi Pachner are left looking through windows and waiting for the moment they can pull the person they love in for a hug. 

“I visit my mom every single day and I've never missed her more in my life," Pachner said. "It’s just a lot, and I cannot wait until I can see her again in person every day.”

At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.

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