By Dillon Thomas

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – Local health experts and long-term senior care providers are calling on Gov. Jared Polis to allow residents in senior living centers to regain some sense of social normalcy. For more than 80 days most residents in senior care have spent nearly their entire day isolated in their individual rooms to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Columbine Health Systems, one of the state’s largest providers of senior and assisted living, warned Polis he could jeopardize the mental health of older adults if a change isn’t made soon.

(credit: CBS)

“Imagine being told you need to stay in your room for more than 80 days,” said Yvonne Myers, Columbine health Systems Director. “Long term care didn’t know what to do about COVID, but we do today.”

Columbine was the first senior care provider to have a positive COVID-19 case in Colorado. However, it has been weeks since a single resident contracted the virus. Myers said the industry has learned how to safely operate, and believes it is time for Polis to allow residents to socialize together.

Myers said welcoming outside visitors should still be delayed for the time being.

“Across the county the depression and mental health piece is getting worse and worse, and there is not really an end date with this,” said Katie O’Donnell, spokesperson for Larimer County’s Department of Health and Environment.

(credit: CBS)

Larimer County filed a variance request through the state. Most of the requests were approved, including opening in-part some restaurants and gyms. However, the outlined proposal to open senior care facilities to socializing among residents in dining centers was denied. Providers, like Columbine, were hoping to promote social distancing while allowing residents to eat with each other.

Myers said some residents are showing signs of depression, including some unwillingness to get out of bed. Myers warned of “confinement disorder,” which includes side effects like weight loss and risk for falling.

“Their families aren’t able to come and see them,” Myers said. “People seem lonely-sad.”

“We know these people are having depressions and struggling with mental health,” O’Donnell told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas.

Myers shared statements from some of Columbine’s more than 1,000 residents across northern Colorado. Some expressed lack of understanding as to why the general public is allowed to socialize, yet senior care residents cannot eat in the same setting as several other residents in their building.

Another compared the past 80 days as living in prison with only a short time in the yard alone.

“Everybody else is getting to go out except our long term care facilities,” O’Donnell said.

“We can’t be on lockdown for the next nine months. Then, it is not going to be good at all,” Myers said.

Both O’Donnell and Myers encouraged the governor to reconsider his stance, while also thanking him for the efforts he has made in the past to protect older Coloradans.

However, when CBS4 asked Polis if he had any plan to loosen restrictions on the senior living facilities across Colorado, he said no.

“Sitting in a dining hall with everybody coming in could lead to an additional outbreak,” Polis said. “We know it is difficult. It is difficult for people of all ages. … It is because they will be able to socialize more if they are healthy and alive.”

Polis said, for now, it’s best to limit residents to socially distancing with one-on-one interactions with their peers.

“It is really important that we don’t put that at inordinate risk by trying to socialize too much too soon,”

“Eventually we are going to have bigger problems than a COVID risk. Because, we are going to have big mental health issues in our long term care facilities,” O’Donnell warned.

Dillon Thomas

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