All My Children legend Susan Lucci (Erica Kane) is truly a woman with a heart of gold. She has stepped up to help people numerous times over the years, including becoming a national volunteer and spokesperson for the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women campaign following her heart health scare last year. Now she's at it again, this time joining the AARP to relieve some of the challenges facing America's nursing homes amid the coronavirus pandemic and teaching people what they can do to help loved ones in care facilities.
In a new interview with Harper's Bazaar, Lucci explains that her 103-year-old mother, Jeanette Lucci, was the inspiration for her latest charitable and potentially life-saving endeavors.
"My mother and I have always had a wonderful relationship. She is 103, and she was part of the greatest generation. I never wanted to be the daughter who dragged my mother kicking and screaming out of her home to an assisted living facility," Lucci explains. "My mother lived on her own until she was 98, and she was very capable and she loved living on her own. That was her wish. We hired nurses to be with her 24/7. But my mother is so spunky and she fired everybody we hired."
Fortunately, a family friend helped convince Jeannette to move into assisted living after she experienced a couple of very serious falls, and Lucci is thankful that she receives such great care -- especially now, during the coronavirus pandemic.
"I'm lucky to have my mother in a facility where I can speak to her several times a week on camera, so she sees me and I see her," she explains. "But my story is different than the ones [I've heard since teaming with the AARP], and I want to help make sure everyone gets the kind of care my mother has."
As such, Lucci and AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins have been working to convince states and the national government to pass laws that establish greater standards of care in nursing homes, including adequate access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff, remote visitation capabilities, and a free flow of information to those whose loved ones are quarantined in a care facility. Lucci also recently joined Jenkins and a panel of experts for a tele-town hall about nursing homes. More than 100,000 people called in to ask questions or just listen in, and it's a program they've been replicating across the country to arm the AARP's 38 million members with the tools and information they need to advocate for themselves and each other.
"It's heartbreaking to hear of the numbers of people in nursing homes, who are among our most vulnerable citizens, who are dying alone sometimes without their loved ones even being informed," Lucci says. "I hope we just find a better way forward. And listening to the stories of loss over the last couple of days really made me understand the importance of the six questions that I know Jo Ann and AARP provide to people with loved ones in nursing homes."
The six questions that Jenkins and Lucci are encouraging people to ask of the nursing homes their loved ones live in include:
1. Has anyone in your nursing home tested positive for COVID-19, whether it's frontline staff or one of the patients?
2. What are they doing to prevent infection and the spread of the disease?
3. Is the facility at full staffing levels for nurses, aides, and other workers so that residents' needs can be met?
4. Does all that staff have the proper PPE equipment?
5. What is the plan for the nursing home to communicate important information to both residents and families on a regular basis?
6. What is the nursing home doing to help residents stay connected with their family or loved ones -- by phone, by Skype, by accommodating virtual visits with new technology?
"I feel so proud to partner with Jo Ann and AARP to help in shining a light on this problem in nursing homes, [and I am very impressed] with Jo Ann and her advocacy and what AARP is doing to provide practical solutions," Lucci shares. "And I love that in addition to that practical aspect, they're also simply letting people know they're not alone. Especially in this time of COVID-19 isolation, that's a huge challenge that many, many people are feeling."
With Lucci advocating for her mother and others in care home facilities, it's only natural to wonder about some of the moments that the actress' mother has advocated for her. When asked the question, one vivid memory immediately sprang to Lucci's mind: when she was in a car accident with her boyfriend at the age of 19.
"[We were] driving on the expressway into the city on a Saturday night. The car in front of us stopped short, we crashed into it, and I went through the windshield," she recalls. "The police came to the accident site shining their flashlights, and I could overhear them talk about me sort of like I was in the past tense. So I knew that something serious had happened. The ambulance took me to the closest hospital right off the expressway. Because it was a Saturday night, the emergency room was very crowded. The nurse said to me, 'Oh, it's okay, honey. I'm sure he'll still marry you.' I think she meant to be comforting ... . So I could gather that I was pretty banged up!"
She continues, "My parents arrived as the doctor was threading the needle to sew me up, but my mother was an OR nurse, and when she took one look at me, she could tell that I still needed some more attention. My parents insisted that they take me to another hospital near where we lived, which they did. I wound up being on the emergency operating table for four and a half hours while the surgeon took glass out of the gash above my eye. Had they not done that, had even one little sliver been left in there and could travel, I could have lost my eye. Through all of it, my mother never took her eyes off me. You don't forget that. You just don't forget."
For more from Lucci on her relationship with her mother and the work she's doing with the AARP to help care home patients during the coronavirus pandemic, check out her full Harper's Bazaar interview here.
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