May Martin

When May Martin's granddaughter Robin Williams couldn't get inside Mulberry Creek for a birthday visit, she held a windowsill birthday observation. She was disappointed, but "glad for the safe zone." Nursing homes and the hospital have strict visitation limits in place now for protection against the spread of COVID-19.

Patients at Sovah-Martinsville are allowed only one visitor at a time, but residents of nursing homes and rehab centers aren’t allowed any.

Those new visitation restrictions are among efforts to prevent or at least slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus and to protect those most vulnerable to it: the elderly and those with compromised immunity.

Saturday marked the first time in her entire “adult life of 50+” years that Robin Hylton Williams did not visit with her grandmother, May Foley Martin, on her birthday, Williams wrote in an email to the Bulletin. Martin lives at Mulberry Creek Rehab Nursing & Rehab Center, formerly Blue Ridge Rehab.

“I was so disappointed when I heard Wednesday that I’d be unable to enter to see her Saturday. However, I was glad for the safe zone,” Williams wrote.

Instead, Williams set up a birthday party of sorts on her grandmother’s outside window sill. It included a posterboard-sized card, balloon and ribbons.

“Thank you to Mulberry Creek!” she wrote. “I felt a sense of peace upon completion of my window visit.”

Robert McClintic III is the CEO of Kissito Healthcare, based in Roanoke, the company that owns Mulberry Creek. He said the company is “taking the direction from CDC and CMS [Centers for Disease Control and Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services] on restricting visitation unless it’s end-of-life to assure the safety and well-being of the residents as much as we can.”

He said thanks to technology, which “we’re lucky to have” these days, families and friends can visit with residents with video calls. People can call Mulberry Creek to make arrangements for a FaceTime conversation, which staff will help carry out over one of the facility’s iPads or their own personal smartphones.

The nursing home also is looking at other ways of “increasing communication with families,” he said.

“Nobody wants this at all,” but “safety’s got to be first.” Hopefully, he added, it would be “a very short-lived restriction, which is going to require a lot of efforts on everyone,” until the dangers of the virus have passed.

At Martinsville Health and Rehab on Spruce Street Extension “only essential employees and hospice [visitors of end-of-life patients] are coming into the building,” Janet Ward said. “Everybody gets paperwork they fill out, and they get their temperature taken – every employee too.”

Stanleytown Health & Rehabilitation Center is not allowing visitation at this time, according to its website. Administrator Kennedy Flynn was not available Monday when called for comment.

“There are interim electronic options for virtual visitation,” Stanleytown’s website states, and also the facility will grant emergency visits, with visitors first undergoing “a complete screening to appropriately ensure continued safety.”

King’s Grant Retirement Community Health Care Administrator Tammy Shorter could not be reached for comment Monday.

Sovah Health has instituted new visitor restrictions and screening guidelines, which took effect Sunday.

At the hospital, entrance for patients and visitors is allowed only at the Main Entrance and Emergency Department. When they enter, people will be screened according to CDC guidelines, the hospital said in a release.

The hospital did not respond for comment Tuesday. Staff are “extremely busy” working on and going to meetings about the new visitor restrictions and screening guidelines, Kelly Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for Sovah Health, wrote in an email.

Patients, visitors and staff will be screened based on potential respiratory symptoms and travel history, the release states. The hospital employees who are conducting those screenings are positioned at the two entrances.

Only one visitor will be allowed at a time for each hospital patient, except for end-of-life and pediatric patients. Visitors must be at least 16 years old and be free from fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, headache, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and muscle or joint pain.

Hospital visitors are asked to wash hands often with soap and water or alcoholic hand gel and not be surprised to see some staff wearing masks.

Visiting hours may change as the situation evolves the release states.

Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.

Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.

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