Ohio caregivers prepare for nursing home visits starting Monday


COLUMBUS — For Rebecca Bickett, July 20 can’t get here soon enough.

As soon as she heard Gov. Mike DeWine announce on June 29 that effective July 20, nursing homes would be permitted to begin outdoor visitation, Bickett said she called the next day for a visitation appointment.

Her mother, Virginia (Ginny) Jones, 88, lives with dementia in a skilled nursing facility. Because of COVID-19, Bickett has not physically seen her mother since the spring, and the separation has been tough.

“She’s on the second floor, and I can’t do window visits,” Bickett said. “I’ve got to be honest with you, I even took a ladder over and tried. I needed an extension ladder and didn’t feel that would be the wise thing to do.”

For Bickett, seeing her mother up close and personal was worth the try.

In mid-March, DeWine announced that visitors would not be permitted at Ohio’s nursing facilities. While assisted living facilities and intermediate care homes for the developmentally disabled resumed outdoor visitation on June 8, nursing homes who meet all the safety standards start Monday.

Pete Van Runkle, executive director of The Ohio Health Care Association, 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. We have advocated for safe visits as we know these are necessary for the health and quality of life for our residents,” Runkle said.

The Ohio Health Care Association represents more than 1,000 assisted living communities, home care and hospice service providers, providers of care and services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and skilled nursing care facilities.

While many caregivers are eager to finally see their loved ones in person, many are not sure what physical condition they will find them in, particularly if their loved one has Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

“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. 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,” Pamela Myers, a program director for the Alzheimer’s Association, said.

Currently 220,000 Ohioans live with Alzheimer’s disease. Older people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias have more skilled nursing facility stays and home health care visits per year than other older people. Nationwide, according to the 2020 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, 48 percent of nursing home residents have Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

Amy Kullik has not physically seen her mother, Lynn Phillips, who lives in a skilled nursing unit, since March 6 — two days after her 69th birthday. Diagnosed four and a half years ago with Young Onset Alzheimer’s, she has kept in touch through FaceTime and phone calls.

“She’s in the later stages of Alzheimer’s so she does not understand anymore the technology like she used to,” Kullik said. “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. 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.”

Cedric Howard said he and his father, Lee Howard, have been getting updates on his uncle, who is in a nursing facility but who does not have dementia, through phone calls and letters from the facility. The last time they saw Thomas Howard, Jr. was Feb. 29.

“He’s been in pretty good spirits,” Howard said about his uncle. “He’s just trying to understand why no one has been up there to see him.”

Howard said his dad is ready to see his uncle.

“He’s ready to see him, see how he is doing,” Howard said. “We know he is doing OK, but we kind of want to put some eyes on him.”

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