ALZANO, Italy -- After more than three months of separation and worry, loved ones are being allowed to reunite with residents of the Martino Zanchi Foundation nursing home in the northern Italian town of Alzano.
Alzano, close to Bergamo, is the site of one of Italy’s biggest coronavirus outbreaks, centered around the town’s hospital, and there is an investigation into whether officials failed to take swift action to make the town and nearby Nembro a “red zone.” It is in this context that many family members appreciated the unilateral move by the nursing home staff to close on Feb. 23, in defiance of local authorities who said the measure was too stringent.
“It was a form of disobedience, out of common sense, that has paid off,” said Maria Giulia Madaschi, the nursing home’s director.
Since May 18, family members have been allowed to visit — at a safe distance and when possible in the nursing home’s garden. Each afternoon for a couple of hours, close relatives of the 77 residents visit at 20-minute intervals.
“It was very emotional,” Sergio Moioli, 63, said of his reunion with his 86-year-old mother, Carmela Bergamelli. He stood on one side of a bridge, while she sat in a wheelchair on the other. “She asked about everything. ... When she seems me, she can’t stop talking. She has this desire to communicate. We let her talk.”
But they avoided telling her everything. She doesn't know that her only brother died, probably from the coronavirus, during the lockdown.
Moioli acknowledged concern for his mother as the virus peaked, when a handful of people died every day in his nearby town.
Now that the contagion has slowed, and he is permitted weekly visits, the only thing missing is a hug. “That will come. We need more time,” he said.
Stefano Terzi is his mother’s second son, and the only one she recognizes since dementia set in.
Terzi, 52, said he was called to the nursing home during lockdown and told to come say farewell to his 85-year-old mother, Anna Maria Alborghetti. She had a high fever and was breathing with difficulty. Doctors didn’t think she would make it through the night. Besides suffering dementia, she is also a heart patient.
Mother and son were dressed in surgical gear and allowed a brief visit. “I didn’t think I would see her the next day,” Terzi said. That night, the doctor decided to try one more therapy. She survived.
The nursing home lost 20 residents in the month of March. None was tested for coronavirus but they showed symptoms compatible with COVID-19, Madaschi said. That compares with a normal death rate for March of four or five, she said. While prosecutors are investigating many nursing homes for improper care, Madaschi said they haven't received any such notification from prosecutors.
"Fingers crossed, that it continues that way,” she said.
For Terzi and his mother, their next reunion was more tranquil, under a blue sky in the nursing home’s garden.
“I see her very serene. For an elderly woman with all of her problems, she is doing well,” Terzi said.
Colleen Barry reported from Soave, Italy.
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