Reconnecting during COVID-19

  • Eckerd Living Center resident Sherman Runion, 75, meets with Mary Jo, his wife of 52 years, during a visit in the living center’s garden last week.
    Eckerd Living Center resident Sherman Runion, 75, meets with Mary Jo, his wife of 52 years, during a visit in the living center’s garden last week.

There was some good news coming out of Highlands Cashiers Hospital’s Eckerd Living Center this week. Officials with the assisted living center loosened its visitation strings a bit with the COVID-19 pandemic and allowed residents and their families to visit face-to-face. 

According to Eckerd Living Center Administrator Ava Ammons, all meetings since February occurred with at least a pane of glass between residents and visitors, with cell phones for talking. 

“Our residents were inside seated on a sofa looking out the front window and visitors were seated outside on benches looking in,” Ammons said. “They used cell phones to communicate.”

While the routine did allow for face time, there was always a window in between. Ammons said the Eckerd Living Center had been on lockdown since February following a flu outbreak. 

“We had to lockdown for 30 days in February because of the flu,” Ammons said. “Then, right as we were lifting the quarantine following the flu outbreak, COVID-19 hit and we had to lock down again. Our residents haven’t been able to visit with their families for the past six months. We felt the situation warranted some loosening of our visiting restrictions strings.”

A little loosening though, but not much.

Visitors, while face-to-face sans glass, had to maintain proper social distancing. There was no touching permitted. All hugs and kisses had to be of the “air” variety. Visitors and residents were separated by about 15 feet of space. The visits lasted for 30 minutes.

Sherman Runion, 75, of Sapphire Valley and a retired landscape designer, hadn’t seen Mary Jo, his wife of 52 years, for six months. Runion had a pair of strokes and is “feeling better,” but he misses his wife. 

“It’s been six months,” he said. “I missed our anniversary last week.”

Mary Jo Runion said she has missed her husband as they have always been together, but it was still nice to see him. 

“This is the longest time in 52 years that we’ve been a part,” she said. “Other than our pets, we are all each other has.”

The couple have visited during those six months, but were always separated by glass.

Runion said when all the coronavirus stuff is over, he’s going to give his wife “a big hug and a big kiss.”

Jimmy Sexton, of Highlands, said visits with his mom Lois, have been difficult during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“My mom is not a technology oriented person,” he said. “At 85, she has trouble holding on to a cell phone, so talking over the phone can be difficult.”

Lois Sexton also suffers from dementia, which can make communication difficult with face masks and social distancing in place.

“We are still able to talk somewhat,” Sexton said. 

Mother and son caught up on family news and other goings-on in the community, such as who is under the weather or has had recent surgery. Jimmy said having his mother here has been great. 

“This is a great facility and I live just down the street, so it’s been great for us,” he said. 

“Isn’t this such a wonderful garden?” Lois Sexton said, then added to her son, “You look well.”