LOS ANGELES — Jackelyn Brown had not laid eyes on her 104-year-old mother, Grace, since March 11. She used to visit every day, but the coronavirus outbreak had put a stop to that.
Now, nearly two months later, it was Mother’s Day, and they were finally face to face again — though 12 feet apart — in an open doorway at the Alexandria Care Center in East Hollywood.
“We only have each other,” said Ms. Brown, whose father and brother are deceased.
This was a Mother’s Day visit like no other that Ms. Brown and her mother had ever experienced. Instead of hugs, kisses and flowers exchanged by hand, mother and daughter locked eyes from opposite sides of the sliding glass door in the lobby. Ms. Brown passed a card to Amanda Santos, a certified nurse’s assistant dressed in personal protective equipment, who then sprayed the envelope with disinfectant before handing the written greeting to Grace.
The Alexandria Care Center has been locked down since March 12. It counts 19 current cases of Covid-19; two residents have died of the disease. Residents with Covid-19 are housed in a separate unit.
According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 64 percent of nursing home residents in the United States are women, and many are mothers.
“Why don’t you come inside?” Grace Brown asked, sitting in her wheelchair in the lobby.
“I am just going to stand out here and get some air,” her daughter responded.
Grace has dementia, and Jackelyn did not want to alarm her. Before the visit, she worried that Grace would not recognize her after two months apart. But Grace knew her “little girl.”
Each family had a scheduled time on this Sunday morning. Every 30 minutes, a new line would form, following social distancing guidelines, waiting for the previous families to finish and their own loved ones to be brought out.
“They feel something inside when the family members are there — it’s different,” Loraine Moralo, the director of activities at Alexandria, said of the residents. “For me, also, not seeing my family is sad, especially when we have a special event. You can tell the difference in mood when the family is there and the family is not.”
California was the first state to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, on March 19, so its nursing-home patients have gone without visits longer than most. And with 38 percent of the state’s coronavirus-related deaths occurring in skilled nursing facilities, this Mother’s Day was shadowed by fear, loss and uncertainty for many patients and their families.
“We are so struggling,” said Maria Evelyn Tuibeo whose 85-year-old mother, Herminia Tuibeo, was admitted to Alexandria on March 8, after suffering a stroke that left her unable to speak.
“It gives us a little bit of relief to see how she is doing,” Maria Evelyn said.
As she waited with tears in her eyes for a nurse to wheel her mother to the doorway, she said, “I have children, but all I can think about is my mother.”
Once she was in front of Herminia, Maria Evelyn dabbed the corners of her eyes and said, “Thank you for everything you’ve done, Mom.”
Genevieve Lazaro, the nurses’ supervisor, also broke into tears as she listened. “Makes me think of my mom,” she said.
Lusine Teroganesya, an administrator at Alexandria, said the facility did its best to help residents stay connected in isolation, but nothing could compare with face-to-face visit.
“We do have the Skype-ing and the FaceTime-ing and all the things, but actually physically seeing them over there — I think it was very beneficial for them.” Ms. Teroganesya said.
The socially distant visitation provided something of a reprieve as well for the residents’ families.
“Families were requesting it — just to say Hi, even from far away,” said Ms. Lazaro. “It’s Mother’s Day. You want the residents and families to be happy.”
Navart Awakimian, 72, told her daughter Mirna by phone that she felt as if she had been in jail since their last physical interaction in March. As she waited behind the glass doors, Ms. Awakimian asked the receptionist, “Are you sure it is my family that is coming?” She could hardly wait for her daughter and grandson to arrive.
Beatrice Botiz, 82, has lived at the Alexandria Care Center for eight months. Her son Thomas Philips used to visit four or five times a week.
Since the lockdown began, he has called the facility regularly to check on her and the other residents, he said, but not being able to see her “has been very unnerving.”
“She is such a strong woman,” he said of his mother. “I feel that she is bulletproof. Being able to see her today, and see her respond the way she did — it brought a calm, knowing that she is OK.”