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Getting the family together again

In-person visits resumes at Morningside Heights, months after doors closed to protect against COVID-19

Submitted photos Ruth Rust, a resident at Avera Morningside Heights in Marshall, visited with Jane and James Vraspir on Thursday morning. Thursday was the first day in-person visits resumed at Morningside Heights, although residents and visitors must follow health and social distancing guidelines. For now, visits can only be done outdoors.

Normally, Jane Vraspir visits with her mother Ruth Rust in Marshall every two or three weeks. But when COVID-19 started spreading across Minnesota, long-term care facilities like Avera Morningside Heights closed to visitors.

“It’s been since February 28, since we were able to visit Mom,” Vraspir said. “It was sad. We didn’t know when it would be possible again.”

But this week, the long wait was over. Jane and her husband James Vraspir made the trip from Minneapolis to Marshall to meet with Ruth face-to-face. The Vraspirs were among the first people to visit under Morningside Heights’ new outdoor visitation rules.

“It was a lovely visit,” Jane Vraspir said. “I think she was very pleased.”

On Thursday, Avera Morningside Heights held its first in-person visits with residents since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. There were a total of eight visiting time slots scheduled for the first day, and all were full, Avera staff said.

In June, the Minnesota Department of Health said in-person visits could resume at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, with some precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19. For example, in-person visits would need to take place outdoors, with social distancing.

While Morningside Heights didn’t start scheduling in-person visits again right away, they were able to use the time to plan ahead for the safety of both residents and visitors. When the Vraspirs arrived for their visit, they had their temperatures taken, and were given hand sanitizer and guidelines for visiting.

“It seems like it was well thought out. I don’t know what they could do differently,” James Vraspir said.

“They were very prepared,” Jane Vraspir said. Ruth and the Vraspirs sat six feet apart from each other in a shady spot outside Morningside Heights. Everyone was masked. The hard part, Jane said, was that they couldn’t hug. But it was “wonderful” to be able to physically be with her mother again, she said.

Community volunteers also played a part in getting in-person visits running again on Thursday. Arlys Hovland volunteered to help with checking visitors in on Thursday morning. Hovland usually volunteers to work in the Avera Marshall gift shop, but the shop has been closed as part of COVID-19 precautions at the hospital.

When she heard Avera Marshall was looking for volunteers to help with visits at Morningside Heights, “It sounded interesting, and it sounded like something that I could do,” she said. “It’s a good environment, and they’re taking every precaution they can possibly think of.”

Hovland and other volunteers help take visitors’ temperatures as they arrive, and help with screening paperwork. In between visits, volunteers also disinfect the chairs and visiting area, she said.

The Vraspirs said they wanted to thank Morningside Heights staff and volunteers for making visits possible again. Jane Vraspir said she hopes to come back “as soon as I can.” However, first she might need to wait so other family members get a chance to visit Ruth, she said.

“I hope it will continue to work out for them,” Hovland said of the outdoor visits. It was good to be able to see people connecting face-to-face again.

“I know how much it means to the families, and to the patients,” she said. “They’re just so excited to be able to spend time with their loved ones.”

For now, Morningside Heights is scheduling visits on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, said Stacy Neubeck, communications coordinator at Avera Marshall. However, it’s hoped that more days will open up for visits as things move forward.

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