St. Mary’s d’Youville Pavilion announced Wednesday it would cease allowing visitors in order to protect its residents from the global outbreak of COVID-19, also known as coronavirus. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — One of the largest nursing homes in Maine — St. Mary’s d’Youville Pavilion — announced Wednesday it would cease allowing visitors in order to protect its often frail, elderly residents.

The measure is effective Thursday.

Philip Hickey, d’Youville’s president and a Covenant Health System vice president, said it is a “strictly preventative” measure aimed at making sure the up to 210 people staying in its long-term care and rehabilitation units are as protected as possible from the threat posed by COVID-19.

Though Maine has no confirmed cases of the virus at the center of a global pandemic, officials say it’s only a matter of time before the new disease arrives in the Pine Tree State.

“We want to get ahead of it,” Hickey said.

Rick Erb, president and chief executive officer of the Maine Health Care Association, said he’s not sure if any other facilities have yet gone as far as d’Youville, but practically all of the nursing homes in Maine are exercising care in screening who gets in.

Hickey said there are several other facilities in the area that are also closing their doors to visitors, typically people who want to see ailing or recovering family members.

Hickey said he hasn’t heard any complaints about the policy shift, which takes effect Thursday, because the coronavirus is so potentially dangerous. Health experts warn that the virus appears to be especially threatening for older people and those with underlying health conditions, exactly the types of residents who are in long-term care and rehabilitation facilities.

“They appreciate that we’re trying to keep our residents safe,” he said.

Hickey and his staff said they will be screening everyone before they get inside, including vendors and other outsiders who need to gain entrance, to make sure they meet the Centers for Disease Control guidelines. Staff will be screened daily.

At the Odd Fellows’ and Rebekahs’ Home of Maine in Auburn, Executive Director John Bolduc said he told residents Wednesday he was beginning to screen all visitors.

“I actually got applause,” Bolduc said.

“They’re seeing the same news we are,” he said, “and they’re really worried.”

The screening process basically tries to determine if a visitor has some sign of illness — a fever, cough, difficulty breathing and the like — or if they’ve traveled to a place that health experts consider particularly dangerous, including Italy, Iran, China and South Korea.

The only exception to the d’Youville ban, according to an explanation posted on its website, is for “compassionate cases” where a resident is in the “last stages of palliative care.”

In those cases, visitors “will be screened and limited to the resident’s room only,” the online letter said.

The advent of technology eases the blow of physical separation somewhat since many residents can use tablets and phones to talk or chat online, often with video.

“We have a lot of technology in the building,” Hickey said.

Erb said that for many nursing homes, the next logical step after imposing screening for visitors is to ban visitors entirely or only allow essential ones, such as a spouse who assists with feeding a loved one.

Erb said it’s not uncommon during flu season for nursing homes to impose such restrictions.

Hickey said he doesn’t know how long the visitor ban will remain in place.

“Things are changing daily,” he said, but the prohibition on visitors will likely be the rule “until we know our residents are safe.”

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