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‘The worst thing is we can’t be with him’: Man concerned after dad contracts COVID-19 at nursing home

West Bay

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Rhode Island continue to have the highest number of COVID-19-related deaths.

Of the 321 Rhode Islanders who have died to date, 190 lived in congregate care settings, according to the latest data provided to Target 12. That’s troubling for families like the Lehners.

Ari Lehner said his dad has been living at Kent Regency in Warwick since June 2019 and began showing symptoms on Sunday.

“I hear a groggle in his voice that I haven’t heard before,” he recalled.

“My parents have been married, I think they’re coming up to their 55th year,” Lehner continued. “Telling my mom over FaceTime last night that my dad’s positive was heartbreaking.”

About three weeks ago, a short-term rehabilitation patient at the facility tested positive for COVID-19 and Lehner said it was only a matter of time before his father contracted the virus.

He said sending his dad to live at the facility was not an easy decision.

“We didn’t have the capabilities and the skill sets and the medical equipment and things that he needed at this point,” he explained.

Lehner said during normal circumstances, he would visit his dad about twice a week, and not being able to spend time with him due to visitation restrictions has been extremely difficult.

“The worst thing is we can’t be with him and we can’t hold his hand,” Lehner said, getting emotional.

Despite the situation, he had nothing but praise for the staff at his dad’s nursing home.

“All the folks at Kent Regency are doing an amazing job,” he said. “Our entire family is super supportive and super thankful for everything they’ve done.”

However, he said he feels more could be done for nursing homes to protect the state’s most vulnerable population.

“If we have PPE solved, if we have testing kits solved, why not get the testing kits directly to all these nursing homes, especially the nursing homes that at least show some positive cases?” he asked. “The department of health and the state need to give better, more granular, more frequent guidelines to these nursing homes on how to react to this crisis.”

In response to Lehner’s statement, R.I. Department of Health spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said in an email to Target 12: “We are testing all residents and all staff in all nursing homes. We have a group dedicated specifically to nursing homes, and we are sending a National Guard support team to all nursing homes.”

Lehner said he’s been able to FaceTime with his father.

“We’ve had a bunch of people create video recordings letting him know that they’re thinking about him,” he added. 

Lehner said he and his family will be praying for his dad, and he will be working with the head nurse as well as a social worker to try and get updates on a daily basis.

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