Nursing Homes Still Haven't Recovered from Pandemic Loneliness

Ministries double-down on efforts to build community in the wake of debilitating isolation.

Inside an Upper East Side nursing home on a September Sunday, Mimi Weinstein, who organizes and leads a weekly worship service there, bounced from resident to resident. She handed out bulletins and greeted people by name while shaking a tambourine. Two dozen residents showed up for the service, filling the activity room. Weinstein’s husband, Jerry, sat down at a baby grand piano, the top propped up with a copy of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, and started playing worship songs.

When a volunteer announced the first song of the service, one resident shouted at the top of his lungs, “Amen sister, Amen!”

This same neighborhood was bleak in 2020, with empty streets and mobile morgues outside of overwhelmed hospitals. In the US, over 200,000 long-term care residents and staff have died from COVID-19, according to a count from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In five states, they accounted for more than half of COVID-19 deaths up through 2021. But since the vaccine rollout, they make up a much smaller portion of COVID-19 deaths in the US.

All across the country, nursing home residents didn’t have visitors other than staff for months, and sometimes more than a year. In March 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services banned visitors from nursing home facilities, and administrators have dealt with regularly changing guidance on visitation since.

Cleopatra Mullings, 84, who resides at the Upper East Side Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in New York, didn’t see her son Gene Mullings for a year.

“I think about it sometimes, but I try to push that thought back,” she said from her wheelchair, with her son sitting beside her on a Sunday in September. They were participating …

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