Alaska Pioneer Homes are trying out in-person visits again

The Sitka Pioneer Home was the first such facility. Five others operate in Ketchikan, Juneau, Anchorage, Wasilla and Fairbanks. (Photo by Emily Kwong/KCAW)
The Sitka Pioneer Home. (Photo by Emily Kwong/KCAW)

Assisted living facilities and nursing homes in Alaska closed to the public in March over concerns residents could easily contract and spread the coronavirus. Now, some Alaska Pioneer Homes are resuming indoor family visits. 

Gina Del Rosario, the administrator at the Pioneer Home in Juneau, says the facility started welcoming visitors inside on a limited basis three weeks ago. Socially distanced face-to-face visits are not to exceed 20 minutes. Overall, she says residents who might have felt isolated before seem happy about the change. 

“The visiting area is close to my office. I could hear part of the conversations. The majority of it is wonderful,” she said. “Air hugs, air kisses have become a normal language for them.”

In all six Pioneer Homes across the state, staff members and residents have already cleared COVID-19 tests and staff will continue to be tested every two weeks. Right now, visitors to assisted living facilities, like the Pioneer Homes, don’t have to be tested, but new state guidelines for nursing homes suggest that visitors provide a negative test within 72 hours of visiting a facility. That’s when inside visits resume. Nursing homes have not opened yet to the public.

Not all Pioneer Homes are set to reopen. There are other factors to consider, such as staffing availability and how many coronavirus cases are being reported in the community. Recently, Alaska has seen its coronavirus case numbers swell. The Pioneer Home in Anchorage isn’t reopening yet due to the high rate of infection in the city. And Fairbanks began visitations last week but stopped after infection rates jumped in the community.

Next Monday, the Pioneer Home in Juneau plans to expand its visitations from one family member to two family members per household.

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