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Collaboration Between Merrimack Valley Hospice + Parkland Medical Center Provides Solace to Family of ‘Soulmates’ Who Succumb Together to COVID-19

October 10, 2020

Lawrence, Mass. (October 9, 2020) – Merrimack Valley Hospice nurse Marley Beohner, RN is dedicated to delivering specialized, compassionate comfort care to patients at the end of their life’s journey.

A lesser-known but equally important aspect of Beohner’s work is the care which she extends to patients and their families, soothing anxiety while gaining an understanding of their wishes.

Pictured, left to right, are Linda Barron and Merrimack Valley Hospice nurse Marley Beohner, RN (Photo courtesy of Merrimack Valley Hospice)

“Especially now in this era of COVID-19, we’re surrogates for family members who can’t be at their loved one’s bedside due to visitation restrictions,” Beohner said. “Providing families with that connection is crucial to our goal of delivering compassionate, personalized care.”

Manchester, N.H. resident Linda Barron, whose parents died from COVID-19 just 59 hours apart from one another, agrees that the collaborative effort between patients, their medical and hospice teams and family members can be transformative.

“I’m still grieving, but I take strength from knowing that the medical professionals who cared for my parents took a vested interest in who they were as people,” she said, noting that caregivers played music her parents loved from the 1950s to “give their hearts joy.”

“Because I couldn’t be there,” she added, “they listened to what I knew would make my parents comfortable. That means the world.”

Longtime Malden residents Leo and Anna Barron met while working at Sears and Roebuck and welcomed daughters Linda and Donna, as well as three granddaughters during their 58-year marriage. Linda Barron describes them as “soulmates” who did everything together, including ballroom dancing every Saturday night for 25 years. They remained devoted to one another even after both developed Alzheimer’s disease, eventually requiring assisted living at the same time.

“They declined together, but their love never wavered,” she recalled. “Until the end, the most important thing to my dad was taking care of my mom.”

In April 2020, Leo Barron was diagnosed with COVID-19. Anna Barron tested positive in May.

During her parents’ subsequent hospitalization at Parkland Medical Center in Derry, N.H., Linda Barron had to rely on daily telephone updates on their physical condition and emotional state due to COVID-imposed visitor restrictions. She sent photos to decorate her parents’ hospital room and shared family stories so the staff at Parkland Medical Center would be able to further connect with her parents on a personal level.

When Leo Barron’s condition worsened, Parkland Medical Center and Merrimack Valley Hospice collaborated to move the couple to a shared room at High Pointe House, an acute care hospice residence in Haverhill that provides a home-like alternative to hospitalization for patients in need of specialized end-of-life care. In fact, High Pointe House was the first hospice house in Massachusetts to open a special unit for end-of-life patients who are also COVID-19 positive.

“I told my dad, ‘This is where you and Mom are going to be together again.’ He said, ‘You girls are beautiful. I love you,’” recalled Linda Barron, who brought the couple’s newspaper, favorite fruit and clothing during her daily visits at High Pointe House which were limited to one hour due to COVID-19 restrictions. “My parents took their wedding vows seriously, and the beautiful part of all this is they passed away with the comfort knowing they were side by side.”

Leo and Anna Baron (Photo courtesy of Linda Barron)

Leo Barron lost his battle with COVID-19 on May 29. Anna Barron died at age 86 on May 31, while holding onto one of her husband’s t-shirts, on what would have been his 85th birthday.

Keefe, chief nursing officer at Parkland Medical Center, said her team was grateful for the opportunity to care for the Barrons and work closely with Merrimack Valley Hospice to honor the family’s wishes.

“Our care team takes tremendous pride in connecting with our patients. In this case, Mr. Barron expressed that he felt he had left his post as his wife’s caregiver, and he desired to be back in that role,” Keefe said. “It was very important for the Barron family and us to work closely with Merrimack Valley Hospice to help ensure they could continue to carry out the family’s wishes of keeping them together in a comforting and supportive environment.”

“We were honored to care for Linda’s parents and make a difference not only for such a special couple but for their entire family,” said Linda Miller, RN, clinical director of High Pointe House and hospice admissions. “We do find that many families of patients struggle, which is why we, as caregivers, are so attuned to their needs as well.”

Merrimack Valley Hospice offers free, virtual bereavement services which are open to the community. In addition, Linda Barron said her healing process has been assisted by knowing that the medical teams “filled my shoes and provided my parents with the respect, dignity and human connection they deserved.”

“My sister and I feel that Parkland Medical Center and Merrimack Valley Hospice treated my mom and dad – and us – like family,” she added. “For the first time, I didn’t feel like an advocate as much as simply my parents’ daughter.”

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