Maureen Hally (center) with family

As an intake coordinator for Suncoast PACE, a member of Empath Health, Julie Hally has seen her share of isolation over the past month.

When she parks her car in the lot that serves the Suncoast Hospice Care Center Mid-Pinellas, it’s not unusual to see family members waving through the window to loved ones inside. In a way, it evokes a feeling of the surreal.

But it is reality. And one Hally was living personally.

Her mother-in-law, Maureen, was in long term care at a skilled nursing facility. With dementia and other comorbidities, she had been receiving comfort care and monitoring from Suncoast Hospice to help keep her stable. Hally would visit several times a week and her husband was there every day.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic began and all visitation was halted.

“I remember my husband dropped everything to go see her when they said they would stop allowing visitors,” said Hally. “After that we would go up and wave through the window.”

In early May, Maureen tested positive and was moved to the facility’s COVID unit. She had no symptoms for a while but suddenly took a turn one day. Her oxygen levels had dropped low enough to send her to the hospital.

When the extent of her condition became clear, the hospital told the family they needed to make decisions about her care. It was agreed the best course of action was to move Maureen to the Suncoast Hospice Care Center North Pinellas.

Without family able to be there, it was the nursing staff that made sure Maureen was settled and comfortable in the dedicated COVID unit.

To keep the family connected, her nurses set up twice daily Zoom calls. Even behind the face-obscuring protective gear, the nurses would introduce themselves before giving an update. They offered to pray together and brought what comfort they could.

“My mother-in-law loved The Sound of Music,” explains Hally. “On one of the Zoom calls a nurse broke out in the most beautiful rendition of “The Hills Are Alive.” It brought goosebumps.”

Maureen’s condition left her unable to communicate but they could tell by her smile that she was listening.

Saying goodbye to a loved one over video call is the new reality for so many families. It can be scary, especially for children like Hally’s 10 and 12-year-old, but it’s an opportunity that they are grateful Suncoast Hospice could provide.

“The relationship we built with the nurses, even though it was a short time, made us feel comfortable that she was being taken care of,” said Hally. “She wasn’t just a COVID patient. She was our mom.”