Donald Homa, 82, of Donora, was taken to the hospital via ambulance Sunday. He was in congestive heart failure and his lungs were filling with fluid, according to his daughter, Daria Homa.
Once admitted to Washington Hospital, his wife, Darlene, was not allowed to stay with him, and all the doctors and nurses were in full protective gear, including face shields. The next day, they tested him for COVID-19, which came back negative.
“Thank, God,” Daria said.
Donald is staying on the sixth floor of the hospital. He’s had heart problems in the past, and they’re not sure how long he’ll be there. Daria said that while “he’s where he should be,” it’s very difficult for him to be there all alone, with no visitors.
“We are an Italian family, and we are so close,” Daria said. “When we couldn’t be there with him, the anxiety and depression for him went through the roof.”
On Tuesday, Daria and her family made large signs to show Donald from outside his room. The nurses, Daria said, instructed them to walk up Leet Street in order to be visible from Donald’s room. After two days, he finally got to see Darlene, Daria and his two grandchildren, Ryland Wasac, 12, and Dominica Childs, 7. They even brought along his dog, Dino.
“He cried because he was so happy to see us outside with the signs,” Daria said. “Just the fact that he could see someone he knew and that he was able to see his family, the anxiety went down.”
They also were able to provide him with an iPhone so he could call them more often and FaceTime with his grandchildren.
“Families have to understand the depression these sick or elderly people feel when they can’t see anyone for days,” Daria said. “They’re scared, and this has never been around before.”
Mental health for older populations who may be in isolation during the COVID-19 outbreak was a talking point for Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Aging Robert Torres, who held an online press conference Thursday.
“That’s a huge concern,” he said.
He said that every area agency on aging has been instructed to submit a “contingency plan,” which should include not only nutritional needs, but also “what plans they have to check on seniors.”
“See if they’re OK or if they need any emotional support,” he said.
Torres also encouraged family members to check in through video chats and phone calls to maintain communication and social distance. He advised that young adults, even if healthy and without symptoms, should “heed the recommendations” of social distancing, to avoid exposing older adults to coronavirus.
The goal, he said, is to ensure “their daily needs are being provided for in a manner that keeps us all safe.”
When asked about requirements or recommendations for home health aides for older adults, Torres said, “We’re encouraging everybody to follow the CDC guidance. If you’re not feeling well, try to stay home and not expose others.”
He said that when the senior centers closed their doors due to COVID-19, many older adults lost their source for regular meals and social interaction.
“Nutrition is one of our biggest concerns,” he said.
He said there are several meal delivery agencies across the state working to make sure people do not experience a gap in service.
“One of the things we’re doing is surveying the area agencies on aging, to see what resources and capacity they have,” Torres said.
His office is asking at the local level, he said, where the gaps are in communities and where they could form in the near future.
“We’re gathering as much info as we can and we’re going to map that data,” he said, “to stay ahead of what may be coming.”