How Vermont senior facilities are readying for visitors

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) We are learning how long-term care facilities are preparing to receive visitors starting in just a few days. It's not as easy as opening the doors. Our Cat Viglienzoni takes you to Burlington's New North End to see how one facility is balancing safety with families' desires to see one another again.

"It's been a long haul for us. We've only seen her through the window," said Charleen Pariseau of Colchester.

The window and a tablet for video chats. Those have been the closest Pariseau has been able to get to her sister who lives at Birchwood Terrace in Burlington. The nursing home has been closed to visitors since mid-March.

She was excited to hear the governor's announcement Wednesday that visitations to long-term care spots could resume.

"I called my sister and told her and she went, 'Really?' And she was really excited to hear it as well," Pariseau said.

Birchwood Terrace is also eager to help residents reunite with families.

"We've been trying really hard to fill a role for these patients, but we can't replace family," said Alecia DiMario, the executive director of Birchwood Terrace.

But DiMario says they're cautious, too. Their facility had the state's largest COVID-19 outbreak this spring. They were declared COVID-free last month. Keeping the virus out remains their top priority. So, they're drafting policies that follow all the state's guidance, and scheduling meetings outdoors with only two visitors, masks, sanitation, health screenings and physical distancing.

"It's quite involved," DiMario said. "It's going to look a lot different for folks. I think one of the hardest pieces is going to be the no touching, and so we're going to have to work with families to understand the importance of that."

The visits will take place in a spot close enough to have some supervision from the reception area, but with enough space to put up a tent with some chairs so families can be together but also far enough apart. They hope to have that in place for visits starting on Tuesday.

Just down the road, the Heineberg Senior Center opened back up this week following the governor's announcement that the stay home, stay safe guidance had been lifted for seniors.

"Having the life come back to it has been just wonderful to see," said Laura Wilson, the director of operations at Cathedral Square.

Cathedral Square runs the senior living complex next door. Wilson says while they have their own programming for their 82 residents, the senior center allows them to connect with the broader community.

"It's one thing to be embedded and never leave your home-- as we all know, that is not great!" Wilson said with a laugh.

Heineberg is easing into it. They're doing about half of their in-person events and continuing some virtual programming, too.