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‘It’s a really awful time.’ Oregon families ache to hug loved ones in care facilities as pandemic drags on


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    PORTLAND, Oregon (KPTV) — Captured on cell phone video, former FOX 12 anchor Amy Troy treasures one moment with her mother above all others during this heartbreaking pandemic that’s separated families with loved ones in care homes.

In the video, taken in September, Troy reaches her hand to touch the window screen separating her from her 74-year-old mother, Marcia Ballard.

“I love you, Mama,” Troy said, as her mother leans over to whisper, “I love you, too,” and presses her hand on the other side of the screen.

It’s the last time Troy heard her mother’s voice and it’s been much longer since she’s been able to give her a hug.

“It’s really hard,” Troy said in a Zoom interview with FOX 12 on Monday. “So, I sit outside her window and that’s what we do.”

Since the pandemic began in March, Troy has been taking photos and videos to chronicle the frequent visits she makes to the hospice care home where her mother lives with a handful of other residents.

Ballard, 74, always greets her daughter with a smile but can no longer talk.

Troy engages with her mother by reading letters to her, playing her favorite music, The Beatles, and telling her stories from her mother’s younger days when she lived in a cabin in southern Oregon.

Troy said she believes her mother still recognizes her to some extent, but her advanced dementia has rapidly worsened since the pandemic.

“It’s just heartbreaking because these are our final hours, days and months with them and we can’t even hold their hand,” Troy said through tears, adding that she knows so many other families are experiencing the same distress.

With the vaccine being touted by health professionals as the “beginning of the end,” many family members of care facility residents are eager for their elderly loved ones to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Hundreds of Oregon nursing home residents and staff started receiving the vaccine Monday.

It’s still unclear when visiting restrictions put in place by Gov. Kate Brown might be lifted.

Troy wonders if she’ll have to be vaccinated before she can visit her mother.

“I’m too young, too young to get [the vaccine], and I’m too healthy,” Troy said. “It won’t be available to folks like me for quite a while.”

Some industry experts believe allowing families back into care facilities is expected to be among first priority.

One pharmacy that will supply the COVID-19 vaccine to about 30 percent of Oregon’s long-term care facilities hopes to complete round one of its vaccine distributions within 20 days.

“I do believe the federal agencies, and the states advocates – all the providers are going to be very anxious and aggressive about trying to get families reconnected with residents in long-term care facilities,” said Phil Fogg, the CEO of Marquis Companies, a business that owns and operates long-term nursing facilities and a geriatric pharmacy company, Consonus Pharmacy.

Until then — or perhaps in Ballard’s case – until the very end, Troy will continue her window visits.

She doesn’t have hope that she’ll be able to be at her mother’s bedside anytime soon.

“I get it, you don’t want other people to die because they get COVID but it’s also just really heartbreaking to watch this happen with your parents or your spouse,” Troy said. “It’s a really awful time.”

Troy said she always masks up and uses plenty of hand sanitizer when she visits with her mother.

Troy will be able to be with her mother, once Ballard is in the very final stages of her life.

FOX 12 reached out to the Oregon Health Authority for more insight into when visiting restrictions might be lifted at nursing homes, but hadn’t heard back at time of publishing.

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