Ohio assisted living centers prepare for outdoor visits

Randall Residence of Centerville residents and workers sit outside at the courtyard, where visitors will soon be able to meet with loved ones from a distance. CONTRIBUTED

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Randall Residence of Centerville residents and workers sit outside at the courtyard, where visitors will soon be able to meet with loved ones from a distance. CONTRIBUTED

Assisted living residents can start having outdoor visits from a distance starting Monday, with many residents and families eagerly awaiting a reunion after nearly three months of visitor restrictions.

Dayton resident Amy Walbridge said her mother Ernestine Ferch, who lives at Randall Residence of Centerville, has Parkinson’s and dementia and that it has been hard during visitor restrictions since they can’t be together.

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For now, Walbridge said Randall Residence workers have been helping by regularly stopping by her mother’s room with an iPad or iPhone so they can see each other over video chat. Walbridge shows her how the garden is growing and when her niece calls she holds her baby up over video chat for Ferch to see.

“I’m very impressed with the lengths that they’ve gone to to keep us in touch with her during the shutdown and I’m very looking forward to their guidance as they reopen to visitors next week,” Walbridge said.

Industry representatives and administration worked together on new guidelines that allow for outdoor visits under safety conditions at assisted living facilities as well as those living at intermediate care facilities for developmental disabilities. Nursing homes aren’t yet allowing visitors.

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“We will continue to examine, monitor, and adjust as we carefully and thoughtfully lift restrictions on visitation,” said Gov. Mike DeWine. “The well-being of our residents has been, and remains, central to our decision-making.”

Because each facility is different, each facility can determine how to best implement outdoor visitations, however, at a minimum, the state said all policies must include:

• screening for temperatures and symptom-reporting for visitors;

• scheduled hours and time limits for visits;

• proper social distancing measures;

• face coverings;

• and resident, family, and friend education about the risks of the spread of COVID-19.

Bryan Nelson, executive director for Carlyle House Assisted Living, said while there’s options like FaceTime and other ways to talk long distance, it’s not the same as getting to be together in person, so the residents have been excited for resuming visiting outdoors.

They are now working on the logistics, such as how to provide shade and hydration for hot days outside when families come to visit.

“We’re in the process of building structures and setting up outdoor tables for property social distancing. There will be temperature checks and assessments done and we’re preparing for that,” Nelson said. “We have to be very careful because our population are the most vulnerable.”

“It is so important that we get this right, and we appreciate the opportunity to work together on a re-opening that respects both the dangers of COVID-19 and the need for residents and families to begin safe, outdoor visitation,” said Patrick Schwartz, spokesman for LeadingAge, which represents long-term care nonprofits.

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Schwartz said some providers may not be able to begin visits on Monday, if staffing limitations or other challenges make it impossible.

“For individuals in assisted living that have not been able to enjoy meals with friends, in-person visits from family, or many of the other basic human interactions that they look forward to, this is a very exciting time,” he said.

Amy Foley, marketing director at Randall Residence of Centerville, said the independent living residences have continued to have visitors but now their assisted living and memory care residents will be able to have visitors outside on their courtyard and front porch seating.

“With people in general, when we feel confined in a community or anywhere in our home, it tends to lead to depression. And so it’s so important for us to be able to get outside and to have that celebration of seeing their families again,” Foley said.

Chip Wilkins, Long-Term Care Ombudsman for the Dayton region, who advocates for the rights of assisted living residents, said aside from the new outdoor visiting, it’s important that people know that with all the rules and recommendations, there’s nothing that says the residents of assisted living facilities have to stay in their rooms.

“We’ve had a couple of (assisted living facilities) tell the residents they can’t leave their rooms so we have been bumping heads with assisted living facilities almost since this started in March, because the rules are clear that they are not to be kept in their rooms. That is not what the recommendations say … They need to keep six feet spacing when they’re out in the halls, but that’s it,” Wilkins said.

Assisted living residents rights

Have a question or concern? Or want to get involved volunteering as a resident advocate? Call your local Long Term Care Ombudsman’s office, which is an independent advocate for long-term care residents and families.

The Dayton-area ombudsman's office — serving Montgomery, Preble, Greene, Clark, Miami, Darke, Logan, Shelby, and Champaign counties — can be reached at 1-800-395-8267 or ombudsman@dayton-ombudsman.org.

Help us tell your stories

In the coming weeks, many assisted living residents and families will be able to meet outside for the first time in months and we'd like to tell some of these stories. If you would like to tell us your story about getting together again or share a photo of your family visit, please reach out to reporter Kaitlin Schroeder at kaitlin.schroeder@coxinc.com or 937-225-2279.

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