Local nursing homes split on how to restart visits

Visitors can now see loved ones in nursing homes under limited conditions permitted by state health orders, but not all care facilities have reopened their doors.

In Ohio, outdoor visits were allowed to start June 8 for assisted living and homes for those with developmental disabilities, and outdoor visits at nursing homes were allowed to start July 20. Both allowances came with state safety mandates, such as staying six feet apart and temperature screenings.

Chip Wilkins, long-term care ombudsman for the Dayton region who advocates for residents’ rights in nursing homes, said his office still receives calls every day from families with loved ones in homes that have been hesitant to restart visits even under these conditions.

“Most of Montgomery County homes are saying as long as the virus is still very prevalent, they’re not permitting outdoor visits,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins said some of the facility leaders are very nervous about safety in the current situation. It also takes time and manpower to schedule and oversee the visiting process and screenings. Wilkins said his team has been urging places to consider that residents have both physical and mental health needs.

“Meeting with family is vital to both physical and mental health,” he said.

Mary Scott Nursing Center in Dayton has held outdoor drive-thru visiting events, where residents can go outside and see family and friends who RSVP for the event and stay in their cars. At a recent drive-thru, residents and family members held up signs greeting each other and saying they loved each other.

“They can wave and talk from the social distance,” said Tim Schultz, administrator at Mary Scott. “And we make it fun. We have a DJ playing some music and we’re doing a barbecue.”

Otterbein Senior Life has been having outdoor visits since soon after they were allowed again, though the facility strictly enforces safety rules for visitors, said, Gary Horning, vice president marketing communications for Otterbein Senior Life, which has 15 nursing homes in the region, as well as other long-term care services.

“Isolation is not quite — but almost — as much of an issue as the virus itself. So we were trying to be as proactive and aggressive as we possibly could right from the outset at preparing for visitation as soon as the governor and the Department of Health made it available to us,” Horning said.

Ohio had about 72,000 nursing home residents as of last year. When the coronavirus started to spread in March, the state quickly banned visitors from these communities. That has left thousands of older Ohioans separated from family that used to visit for hours or even all day.

Ohio is also nearing the reopening of adult day care centers and senior centers, which may open at a reduced capacity beginning on Sept. 21 if the facilities can meet certain safety standards outlined in a forthcoming health order.

“Each center should consider a variety of factors when determining its ability to reopen, including the case status in the surrounding community,” DeWine said.

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