They sit together as if nothing had happened. Ten old ladies having lunch. In front of them on the big wooden table are plates of pasta, glass bowls of chocolate pudding. Some are sitting in wheelchairs, spooning their lunch close together, many with shaky hands. A woman is fed by a nurse. “Delicious,” she says, more to herself than to the others. They all preferred to eat together, here in their group room, rather than alone in the room. There are handmade paper flowers hanging from the windows, it\’s raining outside.
People like these ten women are meant when politicians and virologists demand that the elderly be protected. To keep the coronavirus out of nursing homes at all costs. But protecting them in recent months also meant: isolating them as far as possible, avoiding physical contact, avoiding visitors. Desperate scenes took place in closed-off nursing homes, in the rooms, on balconies and behind glass panes and transparent film. Many felt deported.
The oldest lady at this lunch table turns 100 in December. “Golly,” she says. “Is this the old woman I\’ve become?” She laughs and the person next to her laughs with her and coughs. Actually, these women should keep their distance. There\’s too great a risk that Covid-19 could be fatal to them. But here at the nursing home in Lentzeallee in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, Andrea Eisenbart said right at the beginning of the pandemic: “No, not total isolation. This price is too high for us.
“Meal,” says Eisenbart in passing. She\’s walking through the whole house with a member of the health and safety team. Eisenbart\’s business card says deputy manager, but there are formal reasons for this, in fact she is the manager of the home. A house with four floors, 91 rooms, 82 of which are occupied. A routine tour that should have taken place months ago. But then Corona came along and nursing homes became high-risk zones, which even the occupational safety department preferred to inspect from a distance.
When in March and April old people in most German homes for the elderly waited in vain for their relatives, visitors were still allowed to enter and leave Lentzeallee. Whenever the weather and the condition of those in need of care allowed, the meetings took place in the garden. Otherwise also in the room.
In the federal states and also in the municipalities there are different corona regulations for nursing homes. Their interpretation varies from home to home. The respective management decides whether it wants to take protective measures beyond the official framework or not.
Even during the nationwide ban on contact, the Berlin Senate stipulated that visiting hours be restricted. A maximum of one hour visit per day, by one person, keeping a safe distance and wearing a mask. Eisenbart has adhered to this requirement. Most other Berlin nursing homes closed their doors completely. In the hope that this would not only lock out the visitors, but also the virus.
“We didn\’t want to do this to our patients. For them, loneliness is often the biggest problem,” says Eisenbart. Many of their 85 residents suffer from dementia. “They do not understand what is happening. But they feel every change and restriction.” Some people would have reacted in a disturbed way to the front door being closed because of Corona. “Mrs. Eisenbart, why are you locking us in?”
So Eisenbart initiated what she calls her virus routine: the staff pays more attention to hygiene, dance tea and birthday coffee are cancelled, as is the cross-floor gymnastics program. Wherever possible, the staff should always work on the same floor. And the large dining room, where all residents from all floors can come together, remains closed.
An area with unoccupied rooms on the ground floor is prepared in case of need. Infected persons could be cared for here in isolation.
The people in the house should mix as little as possible until today. But within one floor, a household so to speak, life should continue to be largely normal. With visits and shared meals. The men and women eat in the small common rooms on their floors.
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