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“WE HAVE TURNED INTO A NATION OF SHEEP”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Sep. 1, 2020) — An interview on Sunday with an Alabama nursing-home resident with whom this writer has been acquainted for more than a decade revealed the strain on not only patients, but employees stemming from government-imposed restrictions from the coronavirus.
Since 2010, The Post & Email has communicated with Mrs. Norma Whiting, formerly of Tennessee and now of Alabama, having remotely “met” her husband and her from its reportage of judicial corruption in eastern Tennessee.
Mrs. Whiting arrived at the nursing home in early January and, because of her computer and writing skills, was almost immediately recruited to write a monthly facility newsletter. However, only one issue was published when the coronavirus was declared a public-health emergency, ushering in precedented mandates which continue to affect all Americans, but particularly those in institutions.
Last November, Mrs. Whiting shared with us the essence of several letters she exchanged with 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who was sentenced to 19 years at Ft. Leavenworth for decisions he made 72 hours into his command of a platoon in Afghanistan. After serving six years of his sentence, Lorance was pardoned by President Trump.
Our first question of Mrs. Whiting was, “How are you?” to which she responded, “Wrong question. I’m not doing as well as I would like.”
Speaking markedly more slowly than during our last conversation last winter shortly after she became a resident at the home, she explained, “Because of the lockdown, I don’t get the exercise I need, and my legs have stopped working.”
We asked if she was receiving physical therapy, to which she replied, “Not really. One of the ladies in rehab will come in and exercise my legs as much as she can.”
“Why can’t they let you walk in the nursing home?” we asked. “Partially because our hallway is restricted because they have the virus on the other end,” she responded. “We have to wear a mask if we go out in the hallway, and I refuse.”
THE P&E: Do you have to wear a mask when you’re in your room?
MRS. WHITING: No, but the staff does, and it’s showing wear and tear on them.
THE P&E: What is it about the mask that they don’t like?
MRS. WHITING: They can’t breathe well; we don’t understand them; it irritates their skin; a little bit of everything.
THE P&E: Are you getting the medications you need? Are your meals served on time?
MRS. WHITING: As far as medications, I have stopped most of them by choice. As far as meals, it’s institutional food, and the lady in charge of the kitchen does the best she can with what they provide her, so I wouldn’t blame her, but that’s one of my major complaints: they will not let us order any food in; I can’t order a pizza, even to pay for it. They’re not allowing anything like that.
THE P&E: In one of our email exchanges, you expressed frustration that you could not have in-person visits. Is that still the case?
MRS. WHITING: Yes. My daughter comes to the window and talks to me on the telephone.
THE P&E: How long is she able to stay?
MRS. WHITING: As long as she’s comfortable out there. Some days it’s very hot, and it’s a shorter visit then.
Mrs. Whiting said she “anticipates another month” of sultry weather in her area.
THE P&E: How often is your daughter able to visit? Do they require her to adhere to a schedule?
MRS. WHITING: Oh, no; she can come whenever she wants to. She comes at least two or three times a week.
THE P&E: I know nursing homes are under federal mandates through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). How is your governor, Kay Ivey, handling the current situation?
MRS. WHITING: She just extended the mask-wearing until October 2.
THE P&E: I recall Alabama was one of the states not initially hard-hit but which experienced a surge in cases earlier in the summer. Do you agree with the governor’s extension of the mask-wearing?
MRS. WHITING: No; that’s a definite “no.” The staff here is quitting because of it. They’re overworked; underpaid, and it’s taking its toll.
THE P&E: Would you say it’s strictly because of the mask mandate?
MRS. WHITING: Mainly. And they are underpaid for what they have to do.
Regarding dementia patients wearing masks, Mrs. Whiting said, “You see them walking in the hallway and they’ve got it under their chin rather than over their face. When the inspectors come in, they kind-of look aside and let it go.” As for herself, Mrs. Whiting said, “I am slightly claustrophobic, so I know better than to try it for any length of time.”
Mrs. Whiting said she believes the mask mandate is a severe restriction on personal freedom. “We have turned into a nation of sheep,” she commented.
THE P&E: If you were governor, what you would today?
MRS. WHITING: I would drop all restrictions and let things happen as they will. It’s in God’s hands; he’s still in control. There have been viruses in the past, and they killed as many or more people as this one, and they haven’t done the same thing. I think this is a precursor to total control. My daughter got a letter the other day about my having the flu vaccine and the coronavirus vaccine when it comes out, and she wrote back, “My mother will decline it.”
THE P&E: Were you tested for the coronavirus?
MRS. WHITING: Yes, I’ve been tested three times.
THE P&E: You said there is a wing in the nursing home with coronavirus patients?
MRS. WHITING: Yes, they have six of them at this time.
THE P&E: In your view, are they quarantined to the extent they need to be?
MRS. WHITING: I don’t know; we’re not allowed anywhere near that.
THE P&E: To your knowledge, has anyone in the nursing home passed away from this disease?
MRS. WHITING: Not to my knowledge.
THE P&E: How are you feeling physically and emotionally? We can take those one at a time.
MRS. WHITING: (Laughs) Physically, I am deteriorating, and emotionally, I’m mad. I see the staff and I see the results. I was treated very, very well when we first got here, and the last few weeks I see a major difference in the way people react. The staff is over-stressed. The CNAs here don’t even make $10.00 an hour; that’s outrageous, and they work 12-hour shifts.
THE P&E: Has there been a lot of staff turnover?
MRS. WHITING: Yes. Lately, the staff has been so over-stressed. At night, there’s one person to get us all into bed, and that means stressing out, doing the whole nine yards.
THE P&E: How many patients does that one person have to care for?
MRS. WHITING: I would have to do a mental count. Just in my immediate area, there are 12 people, and the other end of the hall is probably just as many.
THE P&E: So one person has to prepare 24 patients for bed alone?
MRS. WHITING: Yes.
THE P&E: I imagine the newsletter you were doing had to go by the wayside?
MRS. WHITING: Yes.
THE P&E: I’m so sorry to hear that; you did such a beautiful job with it.
MRS. WHITING: The people are missing it; I had already sent in a couple more reports, and they haven’t printed them yet.
THE P&E: Did anyone give you a specific reason?
MRS. WHITING: Just that the administrator who I send it to hasn’t had time.