Nursing home residents, families ready for visits to resume

FILE
Caption
FILE

Nursing homes in southwest Ohio and around the state will welcome back outdoor visitors Monday, after four months of restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Family and caregivers think the relaxed restrictions will help residents, especially those with memory issues, who have had a difficult time with isolation.

Gov. Mike DeWine announced on June 29 that nursing homes that meet all safety standards may begin outdoor visitation on July 20. This comes after assisted living facilities and intermediate care homes for the developmentally disabled resumed outdoor visitation June 8.

Nursing home residents have grown lonely and isolated as the pandemic has dragged on. Prior to the restrictions, some family members would spend all day with their loved ones as many days of the week that they could stop by.

Amy Kullik’s 69-year-old mother, Lynn Phillips has Alzheimer’s, and they have not seen each other since March 6. Kullik can see the effects the isolation in the skilled nursing unit has had on her mother’s health.

“When she sees us on FaceTime, she does not understand we are not there with her, and she’ll get up and go to the next room looking for us,” Kullik said. “That was back in March. Now she just looks down at the screen. Over the last three months she has become non-communicative. She does not say a word…this inability to communicate is new. It’s kind of heartbreaking that it has happened in this period of time when we have not been able to see her.”

A little less than half of nursing home residents have Alzheimer’s or other dementia conditions, according to the 2020 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report.

“We have heard from so many of our caregivers that they have been told their loved ones have been more confused as they have been more isolated on the no-visitor restriction,” said Pamela Myers, a program director for the Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter. “This is a huge concern for caregivers as increased confusion could possibly lead to undesirable behaviors or a decline in physical health and adds worry to an already tough situation.”

There is also concern as residents have become less mobile because of the inability to get walks around the facility and residents with depression getting worse, according to Jane Straker, a gerontology researcher at Miami University Scripps school.

Through her research, Starker found that although most families did appreciate the facilities’ actions to keep their loved ones safe, some residents would rather risk infection than go through such isolation again.

Pete Van Runkle, executive director of The Ohio Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, said he is confident that visits for nursing home residents are safe if done correctly.

“We are happy to see this option opening up for the residents that our providers care for in these settings,” he said. “We have advocated for safe visits as we know these are necessary for the health and quality of life for our residents.”

Even with the governor announcing skilled care facilities can open, not all will decide to open for visitation and some are not able to, Van Runkle said. He said there’s concern that the state has declared Montgomery County a “red” county for coronavirus cases, meaning there’s indication of significant spread of the novel coronavirus out in the community.

Part of the safety standards required for a skilled nursing facility to open for outdoor visits is a state order requiring testing of all staff by the Ohio National Guard. Not all facilities will have the testing done before Monday.

“One of our members’ testing date for when the National Guard shows up is not till (July 22), and then it could be another week, maybe even two weeks, when they get the results back,” Van Runkle said. “So even if they chose to reopen, they wouldn’t be able to because the order doesn’t allow them to.”

Even with all the concern around the coronavirus, Straker believes that the effect of residents being able to see their families again will be positive.

“In most cases, I think the effects will be nothing but positive, joy and relief at seeing each other again,” she said.