LIMA — Ohio’s long-term care facilities are starting to ease restrictions on indoor visitations, a delicate transition granting families more access to and oversight of the homes caring for their loved ones at a time when community transmission of the coronavirus in much of northwest Ohio remains at its highest levels since the start of the pandemic.
The Ohio Department of Health gave the go-ahead for long-term care facilities to resume indoor visitations on Monday in response criticism from families and caregivers, who since March have raised concerns about isolation among residents and the possibility for abuse or neglect in their absence.
But some long-term care facilities are waiting a few more days or weeks before allowing visitors inside, heeding precautions that high rates of COVID-19 transmission in the surrounding community or active cases among residents and staff make such visits riskier.
For Leslie Miller, that day can’t come soon enough.
Miller’s mother, Geraldine Brown, 86, has been a resident at The Acres of Wapakoneta for three years.
But Miller has only seen her mother several times since the summer. The first visit, Miller said, upset Brown, who couldn’t hug her daughter or great-granddaughter like she used to. A subsequent visit found Miller talking to her mother through a cracked window, she said.
Miller plans to see Brown again on Thursday, hoping this time will be better than the last.
Access inside the facility, Miller said, is about more than getting closer to her mother. Past experience taught her to get to know the nurses and aides caring for her mother. And Miller said a physical presence is critical to identify possible concerns about living conditions or quality of care.
“No one has been in to have eyes on the nursing home or the residents since March,” she said. “To me, that’s a long time for people to be doing what they want to be doing. I want to be able to see.”
Dr. Tara Smith, an infectious disease epidemiologist and professor at Kent State University, said indoor visits are riskier, especially when ventilation is poor, which makes masking and social distancing even more important.
“People can think that if you’re indoors and masked, you don’t have to maintain that six-foot distance,” Smith said, “but really that’s still recommended as part of the way to reduce spread. You still keep some distance even though you’re masked, because masks are not perfect on their own.”
As with outdoor and porch visits, Ohio is requiring visitors to wear masks and undergo symptom assessments before entering any long-term care facility.
Residents can only host two visitors per visit, which may last for up to 30 minutes depending on the volume of visitation requests already pending.
Long-term care facilities are encouraged to test visitors for COVID-19 when possible, another strategy that Smith said could reduce chances of transmission from visitors who appear asymptomatic.
The Ohio Department of Health expects facilities to monitor active COVID-19 cases within the facility and community, as well as staffing levels, available supplies of personal protective equipment and hospital beds, before allowing visitors inside.