COLUMBUS, Ohio — Spending time with a loved one has been out of reach since March for some of the most vulnerable Ohioans. And starting today, they'll be able to make contact once again.
Nursing homes and assisted-living facilities can now allow indoor visitation, if they follow certain health and safety requirements. Director of the Ohio Department of Aging Ursel McElroy explained state leaders carefully considered the impact of isolation on quality of life alongside the increased risk of infection in close living quarters.
"We do understand that having disconnection certainly can have an impact on both physical and cognitive decline," McElroy said. "We also appreciate and have experienced just how quickly this virus can wreak havoc on a facility and the individuals within."
According to state data, at least 2,700 residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities have died with COVID-19, accounting for 64% of total COVID deaths in Ohio.
Visitation requirements include a two-visitor limit for a maximum for 30 minutes and safety protocols, such as social distancing and wearing face masks.
Ilene Henshaw, director of state health and family advocacy at AARP, said the organization has created a tip sheet, "5 Questions to Ask About Visiting Nursing Homes." She suggests asking about the procedures for preventing infection, screening, personal protective equipment and communication with families.
"You will also want to figure out how you can best contact the nursing home," Henshaw said. "Is there a particular individual you should be calling, and what is the best way to reach that individual? Ask for their direct number, a cell number or an email,"
State officials have also announced an online dashboard will soon be launched where facilities will report information about visitation. McElroy believes it will be a valuable tool.
"You will have an opportunity to see if they have visitation open; if it's window visitation, outdoor visitation, indoor visitation," McElroy said. "This will give us a really good picture of how visitation and those connections have been facilitated throughout the state."
Nursing homes are home to less than 1% of the country's population but account for more than one-quarter of coronavirus deaths.
Henshaw said COVID-19 has been a wake-up call, considering 80% of nursing homes had serious infection-control problems prior to the pandemic.
"We need to do more to rethink how we provide those long-term care services, how we can better support the hands-on caregivers, who are so dedicated and doing their best to provide care to very vulnerable people," Henshaw said.
The tip sheet is online at AARP.org/nursinghomes.