SIDNEY — For months, seniors living in retirement communities and nursing homes could only be seen by their loved ones from a window. As of July 20, many are now able to offer outdoor visitation as part of Gov. Mike DeWine’s Responsible Restart Ohio plans for nursing homes.
“We did a resident education session with our resident council recently, and they were very supportive of the rules and restrictions that we’ve laid out for this program here. I think the families are pleased with it as it is,” Fair Haven Assistant Administer Lee Jones said. “Is it as pleasing as visiting in person and being able to touch and hug and do all the normal things you’d expect? No. But it’s a good alternative, given the pandemic.”
The mandatory guidelines for outdoor visitation from the state include scheduling on-site visits ahead of time, screening visitors for COVID-19 symptoms and asking questions about possible exposure to COVID-19, requiring all visitors to wear masks and requiring residents, where possible, to wear masks, requiring all visitors to social distance, allowing no more than three visitors per resident at any given time and ensuring that visits exceed no more than an hour.
Fair Haven will limit visits to a half hour in order to ensure the safety of its residents and will allow residents to have visitors once a week so that everyone will have a chance to visit with family. In the event that the temperature is at or above 85 degrees, outdoor visitation will be suspended for the day.
“We had a quality assurance meeting (before doing outdoor visitation) and talked to our medical director, and the big concern was the heat index and the heat, and he voiced concerns regarding the heat and keeping everyone well hydrated. We have hesitated a little bit because of the heat — it’s just not a good time of year to be doing outdoor visits. We’re right in the heat of summer,” Fair Haven Executive Director Anita Miller said.
According to Jones, the most ideal setting for visitation would be indoors, but nursing homes such as Fair Haven would have to receive explicit instructions on how to handle contained indoor visits before they could take place.
“We certainly wish we could have visitors back inside again. I think there might be some residents that enjoy outdoor visitation, but I think there’s going to be a good number of residents that were pretty conditioned to a cooler environment inside and probably may not enjoy the outdoor visitation,” Jones said.
On July 2, a part-time employee at Fair Haven tested positive for COVID-19 during the National Guard testing. The only other employee in contact with that employee tested negative, but both were placed on a mandatory two-week quarantine at home. Since then, the employee that initially tested positive has tested negative twice, and both Jones and Miller think it was a false positive.
“We purposely held off a bit on enacting the visits, partially for that, because we wanted to make sure we took all appropriate safety measures. But the person who did test positive never showed symptoms, nobody in that employee’s immediate circle of friends and family, who would have the most exposure, tested positive, including one coworker, who we also put on quarantine, never experienced symptoms and never tested positive. We feel pretty confident that that was most likely a false positive, and obviously there’s been no issues among our residents and no COVID reported symptoms. We feel confident to be able to move forward in a safe way,” Jones said.
“We have gotten feedback from our families, and for the most part, the feedback has been positive,” Miller said. “They realize that this is kind of uncharted waters for everybody, and they have used all the means that are available to communicate with their loved ones. They’ve been positive.”
For some retirement communities, such as Shelby Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation, outdoor visitation hasn’t begun.
“We’re still trying to come up with a plan that is safe for everyone, so we just want to make sure that we have a good plan in place for the safety of the residents, the employees and for the visitors. We want to make sure we’re abiding by all of the mandates and also making sure that everyone stays healthy,” Admissions and Marketing Director Tasha Wilson said. “Our corporate office has looked through the mandates, and I think that they’re just making sure that we are covering all the bases just to ensure safety.”
While Shelby Skilled Nursing hasn’t begun offering outdoor visitation yet, Wilson said families and residents have been understanding with the delay.
“No one’s been upset or frustrated about it; I think they’ve all been very understanding, the residents as well,” Wilson said.
Even though Shelby Skilled Nursing is still fine-tuning its outdoor visitation plan, the facility still is offering window visitation with residents. Families also have brought home-cooked meals for loved ones, many residents still receive cards in the mail, the facility offers Skype and Zoom calls between residents and families, and many residents can FaceTime their families or will talk on the phone with them.
“I think, as a whole, the community has been really, super supportive. I think, all of us agencies, we’re all working together to try and work through a really tough situation. We’ve gotten so many donations, and we’ve received cards. It’s not just food and PPE; people are donating their time and expressing their support for us and to all facilities in Shelby County. We’ve all been in touch and talked, and everyone’s always remarked about how the community has been just so supportive,” Wilson said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.