Health care workers, families take extra precautions to keep virus at bay

  • Jeff Hanissian, right, sits at a separate table while eating brownies with his family during a gathering at home in Lyme, N.H., on his day off between shifts as an emergency physician at Valley Regional Hospital Saturday, March 21, 2020. Hanissian is temporarily staying in an apartment near the hospital on work days and practicing careful social distancing while visiting family at home. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Jeff Hanissian, center, walks with, from left, his mother-in-law, Dianne Perkins, of Lebanon, daughter Layla, 16, father-in-law Phillip Perkins, and wife Rebecca Perkins Hanissian on River Road in Lyme, N.H., Saturday, March 21, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to James M. Patterson

  • Jeff Hanissian, right, his wife Rebecca Perkins Hanissian, left, and daughter Layla, 16, middle, watch as their younger children Olive, 7, and Pip, 5, perform a cello duet at their Lyme, N.H., home Saturday, March 22, 2020. Jeff Hanissian, an emergency physician at Valley Regional Hospital, has been involved in testing patients for COVID-19 and said wears a surgical mask more to protect others than himself. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/23/2020 9:17:46 PM
Modified: 3/23/2020 9:17:42 PM

LYME — COVID-19 has divided the Hanissian family, at least physically.

Dr. Jeff Hanissian is an emergency department physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont. As a health care worker on the front lines, he is at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19, the respiratory disease first identified late last year in Wuhan, China. Valley Regional announced its first case in an inpatient last Wednesday.

Last week, Jeff’s wife Rebecca took to the Lyme Listserv to find a place for her husband to sleep and shower that isn’t the family’s home in Lyme.

“While we almost can’t stand the thought of him living apart from us, we are worried about the risk he poses to our family as he comes and goes from the hospital,” she wrote.

Within days, another couple in town offered up an apartment for Jeff to use.

“It happened fast,” Rebecca Hanissian said in a phone interview last week. “Suddenly (I’m) finding myself a single mom and home-schooler.”

The Lyme family is one of many across the Upper Valley who are adjusting their lives to make sure that health care workers and first responders are able to continue their work even in the face of COVID-19.

The region’s health care workforce already was limited before COVID-19 arrived and forced some into quarantine due to contact with positive cases. The first identified cases in the Upper Valley were in two employees of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Three employees of the Claremont Fire Department returned to work this week, after being quarantined due to contact with someone who later tested positive, Fire Chief Bryan Burr said.

Given that the department has 16 employees, having three people out was no small thing. It meant overtime hours as the remaining staff members picked up shifts, he said. Fortunately, none of the three employees became ill during their 14-day quarantine, Burr said.

The department has since taken steps to reduce employees’ exposure to the virus, such as asking more screening questions before responding to a call, he said. On scenes, firefighters are protecting themselves as best they can, given the shortage of personal protective equipment. Unless they are exposed to a COVID-19 positive patient, they are reusing masks, Burr said.

On a personal level, Burr said his family income has taken a hit as his wife, a dental hygienist, is now unemployed. The dental practice she works for, like many others, is only performing emergencies procedures due to the risk of transmission.

“The anxiety level certainly is heightened,” Burr said. “Everybody is unsure where is this going and how long is this going to last.”

Peg DeGoosh, who directs the Frances Atkinson Residence in Newbury, Vt., said her biggest worry is that she or another member of her staff will get sick.

While they’ve taken precautions such as barring visitors to the facility, DeGoosh and the rest of her staff are “terrified that something is going to happen to the residents that we can’t control,” she said.

The private-pay residential care home has 10 residents right now, with about 15 workers, including maintenance, administrative and care providers. One member of her staff went on maternity leave earlier than expected, just as COVID-19 began causing disruptions.

DeGoosh has some staff members working eight hours of overtime every week, which she said is difficult when they are already working 12-hour shifts.

“As soon as I can relieve some of that, I think we’ll all be breathing a little easier,” she said.

At the nearby nonprofit Oxbow Senior Independence Program’s Adult Day Services, executive director Julia O’Donnell has been spending her days checking in with clients since the program was required to close last week. Most of the 10 participants have family members to care for them, but three do not and O’Donnell is doing her best to make sure they all get what they need, be it food or medication.

The change is difficult though, O’Donnell said.

“Our whole purpose of being here is to reduce social isolation,” she said.

She worries that clients may not be getting the social engagement they need, and that they may not be eating as well or getting the physical activity they would be if they were still coming to the daily program.

O’Donnell is on salary, but her employees are hourly and though they’ve been paid for the next two weeks, they will need to see if they qualify for unemployment after that. She also said she’s concerned about the organization’s ability to weather the storm.

“It’s scary,” she said. “How long is this going to last? What can we do to make it through?”

Rebecca Hanissian said she needs to stay healthy in order to care for their three children, who are 5, 7 and 16; and her husband needs to stay healthy in order to care for others and continue working. He is the primary earner in their household. She also has been delivering groceries for the couple’s parents.

In addition to preventing the spread of the virus, Hanissian said the change also helps to make the children feel more secure in their home without her having to constantly remind them not to touch their faces. It also gives Jeff space to relax after his 12-hour shifts at the hospital.

Despite the separation, the family continues to share meals together, albeit outside on separate tables. They also continue to participate together in outdoor activities such as walks and hikes and an outdoor cello concert put on by the kids.

The “most important thing is a sense of happiness,” she said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

Valley News

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