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Emily walpole

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India, England and Australia have played each other with increasing regularity over the past five years while other countries have been shunned

India, England and Australia have played each other with increasing regularity over the past five years while other countries have been shunned

There was a striking comment in an introductory blog on the ECB’s website from new chairman, Ian Watmore, last month. Despite locked-in losses of more than GBP 100million, he wrote that the “financial day of reckoning” from coronavirus was still to come. It is a hugely troubling thought.

After all, Covid-19 has already had a profound effect on the world game. Players have had to take wage cuts, a number of national boards are making staff redundant and looking to cut costs in other ways, bilateral series and World Cups have been cancelled or postponed. Yet, as Watmore points out, it is obvious that the longer-term financial consequences of Covid-19 are still to be fully understood.

What is also clear, however, is that the pandemic has brought the game’s inequitable financial model into even sharper focus. It is a model that has, in a number of respects, hugely favoured the ‘big three’ boards of India, England and Australia since 2015, creating an environment where the rest of the ICC’s members are significantly disadvantaged and where competitive balance, the very essence of successful sporting engagement, is an afterthought.

These are not new concerns, of course. But the medium to long-term effects of this pandemic look set to disproportionately affect the so-called smaller nations, exacerbating the inherent inequalities at play. While the England and Wales Cricket Board are set to lose money, for example, their very existence is not threatened and the ability of England to play Test cricket is not in doubt. The same cannot be said for some of the other Full Members.

Consequently, Covid-19 may have brought cricket’s own day of reckoning much sooner than anyone expected. The good news is that there are potential solutions to reduce the inequalities in the world game. It has never been more important that they are executed.

The ECB are thought to have made more than USD 100 million from hosting the 2019 World Cup - more than some Full Members receive in an eight-year period

The ECB are thought to have made more than USD 100 million from hosting the 2019 World Cup – more than some Full Members receive in an eight-year period

There are a number of major elements to the current financial model: the ICC distributions, broadcast revenues, and hosting ICC events such as the World Cup or T20 WC. Then there are also the issues of the prohibitive costs of hosting international cricket for some members and the lopsided schedule which allows the big three to play more and more of the most lucrative series against each other. The whole model is skewed in favour of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the ECB and Cricket Australia.

“The bigger Full Members would claim that, ‘Well we’re the ones that generate most of it, therefore we’re the ones that should keep the larger slice of the pie,'” Warren Deutrom, chief executive of Cricket Ireland, tells Cricbuzz. “That is one definition of fairness. The other definition of fairness is a greater equity of distribution based on ensuring that the whole sport is going to be stronger and more competitive. That’s what I would regard as fair.”

From the latest ICC distribution model – agreed until 2023 – the BCCI will receive USD 403 million during the period and the ECB USD 139 million. The rest of the Full Members, except Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan, will receive USD 128 million each. Zimbabwe will get USD 94 million throughout this cycle while Ireland and Afghanistan, the newest Full Members, are set to receive less than half of Zimbabwe’s share. “I believe that is an area that is wrong,” Deutrom says. The Associate Members have to split just USD 240 million between 92 countries.

A change to the model is clearly required to, as a minimum, significantly increase the share of revenue to Ireland and Afghanistan and the Associates in order to grow the game beyond the Full Members. Other, more radical, options are available.

“In my view, the ICC should have a model that is opposite to what the big three are attempting,” says Haroon Lorgat, the former chief executive of the ICC who has a track record of attempting to check the power of the bigger members. “That is to give more to the nations that cannot generate the kind of monies needed to fund the growth and competitiveness of their game.

“A million dollars extra to India is meaningless but a million dollars to Sri Lanka or West Indies or South Africa is worth a fortune.”

Whether the BCCI, ECB and CA would ever accept that proposal is up for debate. They could argue that the ICC’s distribution model is not hugely inequitable. After all, CA receive the same amount as Sri Lanka Cricket or the Pakistan Cricket Board and the ECB only get a few million more.

The disparity begins to really grow, however, when you factor in the revenues generated by the hosting of ICC events and from broadcast deals. Between 2013 and 2023, eight of the nine major men’s ICC events have been or will be held in either India, England or Australia. These are lucrative competitions. The host countries receive staging fees from the ICC and retain all ticketing and hospitality revenue while the ICC covers all the costs.

For last summer’s World Cup, for example, the ECB received a USD 750,000 staging fee for each of the 48 matches, totalling in the region of USD 36 million. They also grossed more than USD 50 million in ticket sales and made a tidy sum in hospitality too. In all, it is estimated the ECB made more than USD 100 million from hosting that one tournament – almost as much as what Pakistan, West Indies or South Africa receive from the ICC over an eight-year period. “The current financial model harms the interest of almost all the 104 ICC Members,” Pakistan Cricket Board president Ehsan Mani lamented to Cricbuzz last month.

There are other ICC events of course, including the Women’s and Under-19 World Cups, and these are shared out amongst the other member countries. Yet these are far less lucrative. Cricket West Indies received USD 3 million in total from the ICC for hosting both tournaments in recent years. The ECB made that amount from hosting four World Cup games last summer. The ticketing and hospitality revenues are significantly lower for those other competitions, too.

There are a couple of options for change here. These tournaments should be spread more evenly around the Full Member countries so they have the opportunity to benefit from the additional revenue as well as the greater exposure that welcoming the best players from around the world brings. There are already welcome signs that the men’s events might be spread out after 2023, with the USA and West Indies understood to be in the running to co-host the 2026 T20 WC. A second option is to keep the events in the big three countries but redistribute a significant portion of the ticket and hospitality revenues to each participating nation so that the host country is not the only board to benefit.

The irony of West Indian players accepting a Covid-enforced 50% pay cut while saving England's season should not be lost on anyone

The irony of West Indian players accepting a Covid-enforced 50% pay cut while saving England’s season should not be lost on anyone

Another area where the current revenue model favours the wealthy members is in the broadcast deals. The ECB’s current deal is worth USD 1.4 billion over five years. The BCCI are set to earn nearly USD 4 billion from their international, IPL and domestic deals. By contrast, Cricket West Indies’ broadcast deal is worth around USD 19.5 million per year. As these figures show, it is the broadcast revenues which have really driven the financial disparity between the big three and the rest.

In addition, all the revenues for international series, broadcast and otherwise, are retained by the home boards. Pakistan, West Indies, Ireland and Australia all made great sacrifices to come to England this summer, more or less saving the ECB from a financial meltdown. Yet they received no revenue from the series that they played, signing up in return for a vague promise that England might make a reciprocal tour. The irony of West Indian players accepting a Covid-enforced 50% pay cut while saving England’s season should not be lost on anyone.

On the face of it, there is not much that can be done by the ICC in respect of the TV revenues. After all, broadcast deals are negotiated individually by the respective boards. But CWI chief executive Johnny Grave has previously tabled two potential solutions to the ICC’s members in 2018. “Firstly, we just called for a very simple model which was for 20% of the broadcast rights to be given to the away board,” he says. “It should at least cover the costs of air travel and player match fees so whilst you might not make money from an away tour, you certainly don’t lose any.” This did not go anywhere two years ago but could be re-visited again.

The second solution is collectively selling overseas broadcast rights – those to TV companies in countries outside the home board’s market. Broadcasters who were interested in showing an England-India series in any territory outside of the United Kingdom would need to bid for an entire package of bilateral cricket, which would include series such as Zimbabwe v Sri Lanka. Aside from the BCCI, who rely little on overseas rights, these typically make up 35-70% of other Full Member revenues. Currently, there is little rhyme or reason for the value of these rights. It is not simply down to how many people watch. Grave believes that bundling those rights and selling them as a package – rather than each board selling them individually – would obtain a better return and be more efficient, generating more revenue all round. “Obviously that’s quite complicated because it means you’ve got to coordinate everyone,” Grave admits. Nevertheless, he believes it can be done.

For any of these options to be implemented, the Full Members would need to agree, either independently or at the ICC. Cricbuzz asked the ECB whether they believed they have a role to play in supporting the so-called smaller nations navigate the effects of Covid-19, what practical support they would offer, and whether they accepted the need to review the ICC’s current funding model.

“We are incredibly grateful to Pakistan, West Indies, Ireland and Australia for travelling here during this summer so that international cricket could resume. It has shown the cricketing community at its best and it’s important that we continue to work together as we face the ongoing challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said an ECB spokesman, without offering any genuine answers.

There is a clear correlation between lower revenues and the difficult decisions boards have to make about their costs. After all, the less money you have, the less you can spend. Even before Covid-19, Cricket Ireland had to cancel some of the international cricket they were due to host this summer because the costs associated with the series were prohibitive. This is a regular issue for the likes of Zimbabwe and Afghanistan as well, and the knock-on effects are obvious. Less cricket means less exposure, less development and less revenue generating opportunities.

Australia have visited England in each of the last three summers, but Bangladesh have not toured England for a Test series in a decade

Australia have visited England in each of the last three summers, but Bangladesh have not toured England for a Test series in a decade

Hosting cricket has not been an issue for Australia, England and India. They have played each other with increasing regularity over the past five years while other countries have been shunned. The reason? Playing each other is more lucrative.

Bangladesh have not visited England for a Test series since 2010, for instance, while Australia have visited England in each of the last three summers for tours in one format or another. India were in the UK for a Test series in 2018 and are due back next summer too, while England are due to play Virat Kohli’s team in five Tests this winter.

Naturally, that has meant less space for the other countries to host lucrative matches, yet again putting them at a financial disadvantage. It is hoped that the World Test Championship and ODI Super League will improve the situation, forcing the big three to play more series against other countries, although the current structure does not mandate series against every other team in either the WTC or Super League.

“At the moment the situation where bigger countries play more against themselves than others in an asymmetrical, competitor-driven global schedule, exacerbates the imbalance in the way money is distributed around the world,” Tom Moffat, the chief executive of FICA, tells Cricbuzz. “More equitable scheduling can also help revenue generating opportunities for the smaller countries if bigger countries played them more.

“For players from those smaller cricket countries, and almost all countries from a women’s player perspective, the frustration is palpable because a lot of them have demonstrated they can compete with and beat the best in the world, yet they can’t get regular fixtures. The economics of the game and financial models are one thing, but the schedule is a critical piece of the same puzzle.”

When asked by Cricbuzz whether the ECB were committed to ensuring an even distribution of fixtures in any Covid-enforced revamp of the Future Tours Programme, the spokesperson said only that they would “continue to liaise” with other members to “devise a schedule in a congested calendar that is acceptable to all participants.” The push for change, in other words, will need to come from elsewhere.

While Moffat rightly points out that better administration among some boards is just as important as more money, it does not excuse an unjust model that is ultimately undermining the quality of cricket available to those who want to watch it. If nothing is done, the growing gulf in the finances of Full Members will impact the competitive balance of international cricket. That is already being seen to some extent in the women’s game where Australia, who have had the best funded and resourced structure for a number of years now, are dominating global events.

“One of the most important considerations in the game is to try and maintain a balance of competitiveness between the top nations as much as possible,” Deutrom says. “I’ve always been a big fan of the American NFL model, where the team that comes bottom of the conference gets first pick in the draft of the following year. Why? Simply to maintain a competitive balance between all the teams to make sure that the competition is going to be as fair and robust and as competitive as possible.”

Attempting to ensure competitive balance was the main reason La Liga, Spain’s top flight football division, moved to collective bargaining for their broadcast deals in 2015. Previously the clubs negotiated their own deals but the revenue generated by Barcelona and Real Madrid was vastly more than the other clubs were able to achieve, exacerbating the differences between the clubs on the pitch. Collective bargaining has been in place since the 2016/17 season, and has yielded greater revenues than the clubs were previously able to achieve on their own. While Real and Barcelona have still won every edition of the league since the change of approach, the competitive balance of the league has improved.

Whoever replaces Shashank Manohar as ICC chairperson will have a pivotal role to play in designing cricket's future

Whoever replaces Shashank Manohar as ICC chairperson will have a pivotal role to play in designing cricket’s future

If competitive balance is not created and maintained in cricket, the risk is that the effects will snowball. Some, like Lorgat, believe broadcast rights for those countries outside the big three will fall because less people will want to watch them get trounced by India or England. As a result, those nations will then have to cut costs, affecting their development systems and domestic competitions, and probably also play less international cricket while India, England and Australia play each other more and more, exacerbating the financial differences even further.

That is not some fanciful scenario. It is already happening. And if the current disparity continues to grow then some countries, whether in five years’ time or ten, will have to stop playing Test cricket altogether. That won’t be because they don’t have the will. It simply won’t be viable for them to do so. “That is clearly a risk because without funding and without resourcing you can’t sustain or grow the game,” Lorgat says. In that case, the big three would be directly responsible for killing Test cricket.

The challenges facing the new ICC chairperson are clear, then. The ICC have finally confirmed that the role will be filled by the end of the year after months of delays following the end of Shashank Manohar’s tenure. Mani believes the new chairperson should not be someone from a big three country. He feels that only someone from outside that circle can implement the required changes. It is hard to argue with his logic.

Whoever ends up being appointed, the ICC and the Full Members, including the big three, have the ability to create a fairer model, a more equitable model, a model that grows the game. The potential solutions are there. “So isn’t it just a question of the will of the individuals on that table?” Lorgat says. “Do you really want to grow the game and sustain it in all parts of the world? This is an existential issue. It’s whether the member countries want to stand together.

“And if COVID doesn’t make you want to stand together, nothing will.”

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Wisconsin health officials worry about contact tracing plans

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APPLETON, Wis. — A key element of Wisconsin’s plan to help contain the COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be difficult.

With an average of 3,400 daily cases reported in the last week in Wisconsin, and an additional 3,626 positive tests confirmed in Sunday’s update, contact tracers are now so overrun that some have begun to wonder whether they can keep up with the task at hand. The total number of cases since the pandemic began is approaching 200,000

“That’s a very valid question. I’ve been in many meetings where it’s been asked,” said Kim Goffard, communicable disease nurse supervisor in Winnebago County, among the state’s hardest-hit places. “At what point is enough enough?”

Some Wisconsin counties are so strapped that they’re now asking infected residents to reach out to their contacts themselves. That’s why Dane County, the second-most populous in the state, said in a news release it has switched to a “crisis model” of contact tracing.

Officials at the state Department of Health Services have declined to provide specific metrics about the success of Wisconsin’s tracing efforts, such as the percentage of people it has reached and how quickly, but recent press briefings have shown the difficulty of the job, the Post Crescent reported.

The department’s chief medical officer, Dr. Ryan Westergaard, told reporters last week that Wisconsin’s entire public health infrastructure “cannot keep up,” including state, local and tribal health offices.

“Public health is so strained that you can’t count on us to tell you (where the virus is), which is really, really not where we want to be,” he said.

The state said it hasn’t given up. It plans to hire more tracers who can chip in where spread is most rampant. Local health departments are adjusting their priorities to protect the most at-risk populations, such as those in long-term care facilities or homeless shelters.

Even so, public health officials say the only way to get contact tracing back on track is for residents to increase their efforts to control the virus. That means keeping circles small, wearing face masks, physically distancing and washing hands.

“We control our destiny,” said Kurt Eggebrecht, Appleton’s city health officer.

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Long-term care residents in S.D. suffering health crisis due to COVID-19 isolation

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As nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have restricted the movements of residents and eliminated most in-person visits by friends and families amid the COVID-19 pandemic, an unexpected elderly health crisis has emerged in South Dakota and across the country.

The mental and physical health of many residents of long-term care facilities are declining and in some cases leading to death from the extended isolation residents are undergoing due to restrictions on visitation and interaction aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus among a highly vulnerable population.

Recent efforts in South Dakota to use federal relief funds to increase testing for the coronavirus among facility visitors or to implement other measures to reduce isolation have failed, leaving many worried that more elderly residents will suffer the slow decline caused by loneliness, isolation and sensory deprivation.

Anecdotal reports of the decline of residents of long-term care facilities have become commonplace in South Dakota and beyond. Advocates for the elderly and family members of facility residents recently testified before a South Dakota legislative committee that patients with Alzheimer’s disease have declined rapidly, that residents are losing the will to live, and that some have died unexpectedly from causes not directly related to the virus.

Terryl Cadwell told lawmakers in September that her father, Jim Rumbolz, 88, was living an active lifestyle at the Avera Prince of Peace Retirement Community in Sioux Falls before the pandemic. When coronavirus restrictions were implemented, including limits on social activities and family visits, Rumbolz quickly deteriorated and died in mid-June.

“There was never a slip we noticed before COVID in any of his mental capacities at all, so this was really devastating,” Cadwell said. “I feel like it was the isolation that ended this life shorter than it should have been.”

Terryl Cadwell of Sioux Falls visited with her father, Jim Rumbolz, at a Sioux Falls long-term care facility in late 2019. Rumbolz suffered a rapid decline in health during the COVID-19 pandemic and died in June; Cadwell blames his death in part on isolation he endured. Photo: Courtesy Terryl Cadwell

As the pandemic drags on, medical researchers are starting to drill in on the potential consequences of extreme isolation among elderly people.

In a paper published this summer in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, researchers from the U.S. and Australia noted that severe loneliness was present among residents of long-term care facilities at double the rate compared with people living in a personal residence, and that the pandemic has exacerbated that difference.

“A feeling of loneliness has many deleterious consequences … including increased risk of depression, alcoholism, suicidal thoughts, aggressive behaviors, anxiety and impulsivity,” the article said.

Other studies have shown that loneliness is a risk factor for stroke, obesity, elevated blood pressure, worsening Alzheimer’s symptoms and death. Some studies have shown that extreme isolation and loneliness among the elderly can rival the mortality risks of smoking, obesity and high blood pressure.

Data compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that deaths among dementia patients in the U.S. have risen sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, not only due to the virus itself.

In the second week of April, U.S. deaths due to dementia rose by 42% compared with the average deaths in the same week from 2015 to 2019.

From March to September 2020, dementia deaths in the country increased by as many as 2,500 per week compared with the average during that time period in 2015-2019. In all, about 15,000 more people with dementia have died since March due to “unexpected” causes, which could be from the virus but also for unknown reasons, according to the CDC.

Advocates for the elderly joined with family members of long-term care residents to make the case to state lawmakers in September that some of the $1.5 billion South Dakota received from the federal CARES Act pandemic relief fund should be spent on efforts to help facilities open safely to visitors.

Their pleas for rapid testing of potential visitors and other efforts drew sympathetic responses from lawmakers, but in the end fell short. The Legislature held a special session in October and did raise the aid level for long-term care facilities from the $100 million originally proposed by Gov. Kristi Noem to $115 million.

But rules set by Congress allow CARES Act money to be used only to offset net financial losses by businesses, including long-term facilities. None of the money, which must be spent by Dec. 31, can be used on capital projects or to create new programs or install new infrastructure. The additional $15 million was added to help long-term care facilities offset financial losses during September instead of only March through August, which was the allowable time frame for losses to be offset by most of the CARES Act money. Many facilities were already facing financial headwinds before the pandemic hit.

That leaves long-term care facilities with no new money to buy or use rapid COVID-19 tests on visitors who want to safely enter the facilities to visit relatives. Furthermore, the Legislature allocated no state funds for other unique efforts beyond testing that could improve visitor access to long-term care facilities, such as creating new entrances, allowing relatives to be designated as essential caregivers or developing structural ways to allow physical visits at reduced risk.

Efforts to find money and methods to help reduce isolation are continuing in South Dakota as more attention gets paid to the plight of long-term care residents, said Joe Schartz, public policy director for the Alzheimer’s Association of South Dakota.

“It’s been a groundswell of interest from people who haven’t seen mom or dad or grandma or grandpa for months except through a window or by phone, and they’re seeing them wither away,” Schartz said. “It’s not unique to South Dakota; it’s a national crisis and is happening all over the world.”

“People who haven’t seen mom or dad or grandma or grandpa for months except through a window or by phone [are] seeing them wither away. It’s not unique to South Dakota; it’s a national crisis and is happening all over the world.”

— Joe Schartz, Alzheimer’s Association of South Dakota

Virus protections needed; health declines result

State Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls, has a keen interest in helping facility residents and their families, both as the chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and as a daughter whose 91-year-old mother is in an assisted-living facility.

Her mother suffers from cognitive decline but is mostly self-sufficient in the facility, Soholt said.
And yet, since the pandemic hit in mid-March, Soholt has seen her mother’s mental, spiritual and physical condition decline.

“They don’t eat together, they don’t socialize together, they’re completely isolated,” Soholt said. “Think how we would be if, since the second week of March, we had been in only three rooms 100% of that time.”

Soholt, a registered nurse, said she supports the facility’s measures to protect her mother, other residents, staff and visitors from the virus that is especially deadly to the elderly. But Soholt said that as COVID-19 protections have restricted the movement of residents within the facility, reduced opportunities for socialization in the home and limited opportunities for family and friends to meet with and physically touch her mother, she has watched her mother suffer emotionally and her physical condition worsen.

“She’s a trooper,” Soholt said. “My mom has a great attitude and a sweet personality, but you can just see the exponential decline.”

Soholt supported efforts to use federal CARES Act funding to mitigate isolation of residents, and was disappointed that the money was unavailable. She said she would not give up on efforts to find money to pay for programs to test visitors or find other ways to bring residents and families together while still keeping them safe from the virus.

“We’ve gone so far from protecting them from the virus, and I understand why, but at the expense of any kind of quality of life,” she said. “It’s really about dignity and respect for our elderly.”

Soholt said she remains hopeful that there may be CARES Act funds allocated to South Dakota that do not get spent by the Dec. 31 deadline, and that Congress may allow that money to be used for reasons other than to cover net losses. For instance, the rules could be changed to allow unspent money in South Dakota to be distributed to facilities to implement rapid testing or other programs to safely allow visitors to enter the homes.

If that fails, Soholt said she expects that elderly advocates will appear before the Legislature during the 2021 session starting in January to request state money for programs aimed at mitigating isolation of long-term residents.

Soholt, who will leave the Legislature before the upcoming session due to term limits, said the isolation issue has been put on the radar of the governor and others in government and will likely be seen as a priority in 2021.

“We want to provide funded support for the facilities to be able to develop their plan,” Soholt said. “I’m very encouraged that the legislative branch is interested in trying to do something to mitigate the isolation for our elders.”

Visits to long-term care facilities in South Dakota have been curtailed as protections have been put in place to protect vulnerable residents from the potentially deadly coronavirus. In October, an employee at the Edgewood Rapid City assisted-living facility put gloves on the hands of a resident before a visit with relatives through a plastic barrier.
Photo: Grace Pritchett, Rapid City Journal

Dementia patients at higher risk

Schartz, who testified twice before legislative committees this fall, said research on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia shows that patients fare best when they have regular routines and are surrounded by friends and family in their own homes.

In addition to losing the stability of living at home, dementia patients who reside in long-term facilities are now losing that critical human touch and sense of familiarity due to restrictions on visitation and interaction.

“When you pull someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia out of their routines and you disrupt that and their loved ones are turned away, that isolation can cause the disease to progress and results in worsened outcomes or death,” Schartz said. “The isolation is leading to premature deaths for these people.”

Those cognitive conditions are common among people in long-term facilities across the country, Schartz said. In the U.S., about 48% of nursing-home patients and 42% of assisted-living residents have Alzheimer’s or dementia, he said.

Meanwhile, Schartz said his association and other elderly advocates expect to file a bill, as they did without success last year, for South Dakota to create a new dementia coordinator position within state government.
The coordinator could apply for federal grants, improve training for front-line workers and establish programs to aid Alzheimer’s and dementia patients and caregivers.

About 18,000 people over 65 have Alzheimer’s disease in South Dakota, and the disease if the fifth-leading cause of death in the state. South Dakota has roughly 140,000 people in that age group overall.

The number of patients is expected to climb as the population ages, and the number of dementia patients is undoubtedly rising as well, Schartz said. The state is home to about 40,000 people who are caregivers to patients with Alzheimer’s, and they too have suffered great emotional and physical stress during the pandemic, Schartz said.

“I wish that you could hear their phone calls to our office; I wish you could hear the panic and the strain and the hurt in their voices,” Schartz told lawmakers in September. “The pandemic is pushing these families to the breaking point.”

Experts say the negative effects of isolation on long-term care residents, staff and family members will worsen during the winter months in South Dakota because the few outdoor visits taking place now will become less frequent and the facilities will become more locked down from the cold.

“At the end of the day, nothing is going to replace in-person visiting and human contact, which as humans we all rely on for part of our health and part of our humanity,” he said. “This has gone on for many months, and it’s only going to get much worse as we approach winter and outdoor visitation will become much tougher.”

Tim Mercy hugs his mother, 88-year-old Patsy Mercy, through a “hugging wall” built with plastic barriers to allow a safe physical connection between visitors and residents of the Edgewood Rapid City assisted-living facility in Rapid City.
Photo: Grace Pritchett, Rapid City Journal

Facilities find ways to reduce isolation

Many facilities have allowed residents to have brief visits with patients outdoors on patios or in courtyards, though without physical touching. Other novel methods have been used to reduce isolation, including visits through windows, via internet connections or even through messages left for staff to deliver to residents.

When the pandemic hit in March, assisted-living facilities such as the Edgewood Rapid City senior living complex underwent immediate and significant changes to keep residents and staff safe.

Edgewood Director Erin Andersen said restrictions on visitation and movement within the facility, which has about 95 residents mostly in small apartments, were needed to fight the spread of the coronavirus but took a noticeable emotional and physical toll on residents and staff.

“Prior to COVID, we were like an apartment building where people could come and go and visit as they pleased,” Andersen said. “It was a beehive of activity.”

Under the threat of the virus invading the complex, shopping trips by residents were banned, visitors were not allowed inside, communal meals were replaced by food delivered to individual rooms in disposable containers, and popular activities such as bingo were halted.

Restrictions and testing of staff were heightened when a resident tested positive for COVID-19 early in the pandemic, even though no one ever got sick, Andersen said.

“We didn’t want to be cruel, but we also knew that if it got into our building, it could be really, really deadly, so we wanted to protect everybody even if it wasn’t always the most popular decision,” Andersen said.

A general pall fell over the facility and some situations in particular were especially hard to endure, she said.
“We have one resident whose husband was in a skilled-care community and he passed away from COVID,” Andersen said. “She was not able to see him or be with him in his final days, and it was devastating.”

As the pandemic dragged on, a staff member at Edgewood heard about an effort by an Idaho facility run by the Edgewood group that allowed for a safe way for residents and visitors to physically connect.

After some research, and with donations of materials from several Rapid City businesses, the staff at Edgewood built a so-called “hugging wall,” an 8-foot-tall, 6-foot-wide wooden structure that resembles a window frame in which visitors and guest can embrace. The two users are separated by a vinyl sheet that is cleaned after each use and are able to safely hug by wearing long plastic sleeves that typically would be used to artificially inseminate cattle. The plastic barriers prevent the spread of the coronavirus while allowing two people to fully embrace, Andersen said.

“It does get used a lot,” she said. “And the reactions from people the first time they touched a loved one, it was tears of joy, and actually staff cried too, because you could see the relief. You could see a lot of that loneliness wash away with just a 30-second hug.”

Jim Rumbolz was an active, engaged resident of the Avera Prince of Peace Retirement Community in Sioux Falls when this picture was taken in December 2019. Just six months later, Rumbolz had suffered rapid mental and physical decline that led to his death in June 2020. He did not become infected with the coronavirus, and his daughter believes isolation and sensory deprivation contributed significantly to his passing. Photo: Courtesy Terryl Cadwell

Family members in pain as loved ones suffer

During phone testimony before the legislative Joint Health & Human Services Committee in September, Cadwell of Sioux Falls shared the story of her father’s mental and physical decline and eventual death that she blames largely on isolation he endured during the pandemic.

Cadwell said her father, Jim Rumbolz, had a multi-faceted career that included stints as a state trooper, a criminal-justice educator at the University of South Dakota and finally as a hospital administrator in Custer, S.D. After retiring to Sioux Falls, Rumbolz most recently lived at the Avera Prince of Peace community, where he was well known as active, gregarious and full of life.

Rumbolz, who buzzed around the facility on a scooter, eschewed games like bingo and instead sought out more stimulating and meaningful activities to keep his mind active and sharp, Cadwell said.

He was part of a book club, took art lessons and formed a coffee club to discuss current events. He exercised regularly, read a newspaper every day and relished time spent with friends or relatives either in person or by phone.

“My dad would kiss my hand every day before I left, and I was able to hug him,” Cadwell said, fighting back tears.

But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Cadwell said her father’s overall condition quickly deteriorated as opportunities for activities and visits were restricted and touching was not allowed.

Rumbolz became fearful of caregivers who wore masks, gloves and protective gowns. He felt isolated because he could no longer hear or read the lips of nurses and others as they spoke through masks. He longed for the touch of his daughter and other family members, but was unable to have physical contact with anyone.

In a period of just a few months, Cadwell’s father began to falter, and he died on June 16. In a follow-up interview with News Watch, Cadwell said her father’s official cause of death was a swallowing problem that required his being fed through a tube. He was never diagnosed with COVID-19, she said.

Cadwell insists that the loss of meaning, purpose and stimulation suffered by her father hastened his mental and physical decline and played a large role in his death.

“I believe we are of mind, body and spirit,” Cadwell said. “You shut that off on a guy like that, with no joy from eating, no activities that were his lifeblood, and he can’t see me or hear the nurses, and the joy of life was gone.”

Cadwell’s story is not uncommon among families of residents of long-term care facilities.

Doctors and caregivers have reported that patients with Alzeheimer’s or dementia have become withdrawn or show slowed mental cognition. Some patients have suffered falls, become more susceptible to infections and shown sudden frailty.

Soholt said she noticed her mother is walking with more of a shuffle and may not be as physically strong as she was before the pandemic.

“I’ve seen a change in her gait, and there’s no way to stay strong,” Soholt said. “The fact they’re not out walking in hallways, there’s a strength decline, and they’re shuffling their feet because the space they’re in is so small.”

Tom and Lee Raines of Sioux Falls have worked as a loving couple to make the best of Tom’s diagnosis of Alzheimber’s Disease. But Lee now worries that Tom’s condition has declined rapidly since the COVID-19 pandemic led to restrictions at his long-term care facility that at first prevented Lee from visiting Tom, and later blocked her from touching him physically during outdoor visits. Photo: Courtesy Lee Raines

Lee Raines of Sioux Falls is suffering through what she said is the devastating decline of a man who became the love of her life after a 50-year separation.

Raines, 82, and her husband, Tom, knew each other in the 1950s growing up in eastern South Dakota. They led separate lives, and then were reintroduced in 2006 when both were free of prior relationships; they married in 2007.

After several happy years, Raines began to notice problems. On one occasion a few years ago, Tom was driving them on the interstate near Brookings and had to ask which exit to take to a city where he had worked as a banker for a quarter century.

Tom was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2015, Raines said, and he later moved to an assisted-living facility for safety. The disease took a toll on his mind and body, but since the pandemic struck in March, and restrictions on visitation were implemented, his decline has become more rapid.

“Tom was such a bright person, intelligent and fun and always telling a joke, and to see that decline so quickly …” Raines said. “I’ve seen the slow decline since 2015, but he’s definitely declining faster in the past several months.”

His physical condition has also deteriorated amid the pandemic, Raines said, noting that Tom, 82, has lost more than 20 pounds.

Now, they are only able to visit briefly together outside, six feet apart, with no touching allowed. Tom struggles with wearing a mask that sometimes entangles with his hearing aid, which then falls out. Raines tries to stimulate Tom’s mind and memory by asking him about his childhood or writing things on cards that may spur recollections of the past and generate a greater connection to the present.

The inability to fully communicate, and especially the restriction on touching, are especially trying for her husband and other people with Alzheimer’s, many of whom rely on close relationships to stay healthy and aware, Raines said.

Though the visits are a mix of love, hope, appreciation and some sadness, the trips alone back to the home she once shared with Tom can be crushing, Raines said.

“Sometimes I cry all the way home,” she said. “It just breaks your heart, it really does.”

Raines is pushing state government to implement a rapid COVID-19 testing program for visitors to long-term facilities that she said could provide results in less than 20 minutes and allow for safe in-person visits by family and friends. So far, no widespread testing programs for visitors at long-term facilities have been implemented in South Dakota.

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The Hockey Niñas, four Twin Cities girls, take to the ice to promote Minnesota’s traditional sport

Emily walpole

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At a time when hockey officials at all levels are working to expand the sport, particularly among minorities, four young girls in the Bloomington area have made it their mission, as well.

Introducing the Hockey Niñas, two pairs of sisters of color who are enjoying the sport while also encouraging others to join them. The four girls are part of the Bloomington Girls Hockey Club, which governs the sport in the hockey-rich suburb.

After a recent practice at Bloomington Ice Garden, the quartet — 11-year-old Adelyn Janzig de la Luz and her sister Elisa, 8, plus Aubrey Lang, 11, and her sister Mia, 9 — engaged in the typical, good-natured chirping about their games. Nearby, their mothers, Laura Janzig de la Luz of Bloomington and Meredith Lang of Richfield, exuded pride in their trailblazing daughters.

“That’s why we started the Hockey Niñas, because we did want to put a spotlight on girls of color that are out here playing hockey — a nontraditional sport for us,” Lang said. “They’re enjoying it and building friendships all the time. Other kids [of color] can see it. ‘Look, we have these players that are represented in hockey. Maybe it’s something we can try, too.’ ”

Added Janzig de la Luz: “The girls love it. They look so forward to spending time on the ice.”

Janzig de la Luz and Lang were introduced to hockey in different ways. A Mexico City native, Janzig de la Luz and her family moved to the United States when she was 5, and she later attended the Academy of Holy Angels.

“That’s when I learned about hockey, but I never really paid attention,” she said. “For Latinos, it’s soccer. You watch soccer, you play soccer.”

Embracing Minnesota

Lang attended Richfield High School, where girls’ hockey became a varsity sport when she was a freshman. After college, she lived in North Carolina before returning to Minnesota.

“We were moving to Minnesota, and Aubrey was like, ‘OK, I want to play hockey.’ I was like, ‘What?’ ” Lang said. “So, I just researched it, and that was the first thing we did when we got here. ‘If we’re in Minnesota, do like the Romans do. We’re playing hockey.’ ”

The Lang and Janzig de la Luz families want to see more people of color playing hockey. So does Glen Andresen, executive director of Minnesota Hockey, the governing body of youth and amateur hockey in the state. The organization falls under the USA Hockey banner.

“If you were to rank our focuses, No. 1 would be growing the game,” Andresen said. “We’ve been excited in the success in that over the last five to 10 years. However, if we were to be honest with ourselves and look at where we have more potential for growth, it’s with families of color or families with different ethnicities. We have prioritized that.”

Andresen said USA Hockey is in the early stages of tracking race and ethnicity in its membership, so complete statistics aren’t available nationally or in Minnesota. He said making people of color comfortable in hockey is important.

“As we’ve been meeting with families and kids who have played the game, one of the things we’ve come to realize is we can’t expect to grow the game much if we don’t change the culture of the experience for those players,” he said.

To make the game more inclusive, Minnesota Hockey started the Little Wild Learn to Play program; the Gear Up Minnesota! program, which supplies equipment to associations to provide to kids; and the Family Mentor program, in which established hockey families welcome new families to the sport.

“We have some more that are more diversity-focused programs that we’ll be launching this year,” Andresen said.

Welcoming new players

Lang said feeling welcome is important to people of color in hockey.

“There’s always minorities playing hockey, but is it an inclusive environment for minorities feeling welcome?” she said. “ … With all the things that are happening with racial injustice and civil unrest, it’s sparking a lot of conversation.”

She hopes that as opportunities for youngsters of color in hockey expand, discrimination on the ice will disappear to the point where they won’t have to warn their children about it. She has participated in focus groups with Minnesota Hockey about issues for people of color.

“We came with our own experiences, but it was really cool to see what everybody else experienced,” she said. “The hard thing to listen to are things on the boys’ side. They experience racial slurs when they’re so young. It’s to the point where some of the kids have signals to their parents in the stands to let them know this is happening.”

Minnesota Hockey on Sept. 30 announced a rule change that will assess match penalties for language, gestures or conduct that is offensive, hateful or discriminatory in nature.

Fun and inclusion

For the Janzig de la Luz and Lang girls, the fun aspect of hockey is front and center. They enjoy the sport and the friendships that have developed from it.

“In second grade, Adelyn came in and I gave her this piece of paper to join hockey,” Aubrey Lang said. “ … I liked that I had a friend playing hockey.”

Aubrey’s and Adelyn’s younger sisters, Mia and Elisa, respectively, relish being the “Littles” in the Hockey Ninas.

“We are strong, independent, cute, fashionable, expensive Littles,” the duo chanted in singsong fashion.

All the while, the quartet shows the way for others like them to become involved in the sport they love.

“It’s nice to see that joy where they’re saying, ‘I’m one of the first but not the last. We’re going to bring more girls of color to play hockey,’ ” Laura Janzig de la Luz said.

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