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Not Forgotten: Seniors in assisted living struggle to come to terms with lockdowns

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Sheri-Bilow-Wallace
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While many assisted living places are allowing visitors, some are still in lockdown.

And although some residents and their families understand the restrictions, others don’t.

It’s especially taken a toll on one couple that used to see each other everyday.

Since COVID-19 hit, Edsel Sharrow has only spoken to his wife, Chris Sharrow, on phones through the window at Northern Star Assisted Living in Traverse City.

He has a TV that he enjoys watching, and he’s grateful for the staff at Northern Star Assisted Living.

But he hasn’t hugged his wife in more than 12 months. He’s 97 and confined to his bed.

Pre-pandemic, his wife would visit him every evening.

“(But now) She comes at least twice a week and parks outside there and talks to me on her cell phone through the window,” Edsel said.

He’s been at Northern Star for over two years, and although he understands pandemic restrictions, he still longs for his wife.

“That’s the hardest part. No having her be able to come in the room here,” he said. “When I first came here, she was able to come in everyday if she wanted. She was here every day for a long time. Why, of course during the pandemic, she’s not able to. We’ve got rules to follow and that’s it.”

He’s one of 48 residents there, but the facility can hold up to 62.

Although many adult care facilities have opened their doors to visitors, not Northern Star .

The administration credits the continued lockdown for keeping COVID-19 out, says Sheri Bilow-Wallace, an administrator there.

“We are very, very happy that we were able to keep corona out of here, the virus, we did not have residents contract the virus whatsoever,” she said.

The same with staff. They all remained COVID-19 free, she said.

Bilow-Wallace has seen and heard about other assisted living places that are severely hit with the virus.

“Once this enters a facility, it just spreads throughout. It’s very, very hard to contain. And with this elderly population, we know that this is the group that is hardest hit,” she said.

According to Michigan.gov’s long-term care Covid data, there are 15 facilities in Grand Traverse County.

Sixty-five residents at various places contracted Covid-19 throughout the county and seven died. It shows that Northern Star has not, in fact, had any cases.

Bilow-Wallace isn’t sure when they’ll lift restrictions. But most residents and staff have been vaccinated, she said.

And until they ease the policies at Northern Star, some residents may never understand what’s going on.

“When you’re working with residents that have dementia, Alzheimer's, anything along those lines, they don’t recall events that are happening,” she said. “So it’s just a constant question to them, everyday, sometimes every moment, they struggle with why they’re not able to see their families.”

For the most part, family members get it, but many have expressed anger over the continued lockdown.

“The ones that are really hard are the family members that call yelling. There’s ‘You can’t do this. This is unexceptable. You’re just blocking me from seeing… I’m just going to take my mom home.’ And those are hard,” she said.

Throughout the last year, many family members have even called the virus a hoax.

Heartbreaking is the word she uses over and over to describe the hardships of the pandemic on elders and their families.

“It’s very tough. We see residents' families will come in and sit through the window, and we always make sure we get a phone at least so they can talk to each other through the window,” she said. “But to watch these family members sit outside and just cry because they can’t hug their mom or their aunt or their loved one, it tears your heart out.”

Edsel remains positive though.

“The main thing I look forward to is when my wife Chris can visit me here, and we can talk close together and discuss things that we want to and things like that,” he said.

Bilow-Wallace admires their relationship.

“They’re just the most adorable couple. It’s like a little fairytale. He is her world… everything to her,” she said.

For now they’ll continue talking through the window.

Not forgotten music composed by Andy Middlemiss.

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