Drive-by visit with dad at veterans home proves touching, even without touching

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Christopher DeVargas

Scott Davis talks to his father, Richard Davis, a resident at the Nevada State Veterans Home in Boulder City, Saturday, May 16, 2020. The nursing home allows visits under strict social distancing guidelines during the pandemic.

Sun, May 24, 2020 (2 a.m.)

When Scott Davis dropped off his father, Richard, at the Nevada State Veterans Home in Boulder City on March 12, he knew Richard would be in good hands.

And yet leaving him there was agonizing. The reason: That day, the Nevada Department of Veterans Services announced it would allow no visitations at the home until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak in Nevada.

“What was going through my mind was taking care of my father,” Davis said tearfully. “At that point I didn’t know when I was going to see him again, but I was OK with that because I know he’s getting great care at the veterans home and they care about him.”

This month, though, Davis received joyous news: The veterans home was allowing drive-thru visitations with residents.

He jumped at the opportunity, loading up his family in the 2008 Red Saturn Vue — the car he always drove to pick up his father and knew he would recognize. The Davises made the trek to Boulder City for the first time in two months.

In a video Davis shot of the reunion, Richard, 81, can be seen wearing a mask, sitting on a bench outside the home and holding the hand of one of the home’s employees.

“You’re looking good,” Davis says in the video. “We miss seeing you.”

Richard tries to get up, but Davis gently reminds him that the visit can only be at a distance.

“You gotta stay right there for now, Dad.”

A minute in, Davis chokes up while thanking the health care workers for taking care of this father.

“We love you, we’re praying for you and you tell everyone in the Mariner Wing that I can’t wait to see them again and that I miss baking for you guys,” he says.

It’s a tender scene, and yet the video also reflects a harsh reality among families and the older relatives they’re trying to keep safe. The pandemic is creating distance between family members.

Nursing and assisted-living facilities have been especially vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic, with one of the early, more deadly outbreaks happening in a nursing facility in suburban Seattle. At least two-thirds of the residents there were infected, resulting in 37 deaths.

Nevada homes and assisted-living facilities weren’t excluded from these outbreaks, with more than 800 cases and 89 deaths in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, the state reported Wednesday. Some nursing homes in Southern Nevada took early preventive measures to mitigate risk of the infection spreading within the community.

Poet’s Walk, a memory care facility in Henderson, started canceling outings in early March.

Visits to state-regulated nursing facilities statewide were canceled altogether on March 12, four days before Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered the closures of all nonessential businesses in Nevada.

Daniel Mathis, CEO of PureCare Living, a health care management company that oversees nursing and post-acute care facilities in Southern Nevada, said visitation at the company’s properties was strictly prohibited until the first week of May. Visitation has resumed, but only on a case-by-case basis, and the facilities are still strongly encouraging virtual visitations until further notice.

At the veterans home in Boulder City, residents and team members started getting COVID-19 tests on March 30, following three positive results from residents and the death of one hospitalized resident. COVID-19 patients remained in isolation, according to the Nevada Department of Veterans Services.

The veterans home also set up a 24-hour COVID-19 Update Line to provide transparency for families, something Davis said he greatly appreciated.

Davis, who was used to visiting his father several times a week, said he never felt isolated from Richard during the two-month quarantine, as staff gave him frequent updates on his father’s care. Their outreach also included a letter with enclosed photos of Richard that read, “Dear Scott, I’m doing fine, love Richard.” Richard has dementia and is unable to write.

“I was just touched,” Davis said. “We were very grateful.”

Richard was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Berlin Crisis, Davis said, and served in the military from 1960 to 1962, earning him the care he’s receiving at the veterans home. After his service, Richard worked in the construction industry and drove a Caterpillar bulldozer.

“My three brothers would go with him on Saturdays,” he said. “It was fun to hang out because we got to ride on the bulldozer and then we’d stop for lunch … it was really a treat for us boys to go do that.”

Davis, who said he was finding it difficult to care for his father as he entered the later stages of dementia, said the veterans home was a relief for his family.

Before the pandemic, he said he would take Richard for rides in the red Saturn, sometimes taking him out to the Dairy Queen for a vanilla milkshake.

A return visit for ice cream will have to wait until it’s safe again, but in the meantime Davis said he was thrilled to be reunited with his dad via the drive-thru visit, even if it was at a distance.

He posted the video of the visit, shot from inside the car, on Facebook so the rest of his family could participate.

“My aunt thought because of what we did, she was there with us in the visit,” he said. “That really touched my heart because that’s what I wanted it to be. Just for the family.”

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