The moment Irvin Alloy laid eyes on his son and daughter outside LSS Kensington Place in Columbus, he felt his lungs expand for the first time in months. There was no glass in his way or voices distorted by a phone.
Alloy and his wife, Camille, were in the same summer heat outside their assisted living apartment as their children, Phil and Jan.
“It was like we had been away for a century and finally came home,” Alloy said. “We could see them, talk to them, see how they are. It was just like taking a load off our backs seeing everybody was fine. We had talked on the phone (throughout the closed visitation), but this was an entirely different feeling when we saw them in person.”
After months of visitation suspended by the state, Gov. Mike DeWine announced nursing homes across Ohio can host regulated outdoor visitation for residents starting July 20. This decision came over a month after DeWine’s permittance of outdoor visitation at Ohio assisted living facilities – like the Alloys’ – starting June 8.
The CJN spoke with representatives from senior living facilities in Central and Northeast Ohio about their preparations and how seniors are feeling about it all.
DeWine also announced during his June 29 press briefing that the state, with help from the Ohio National Guard, will continue COVID-19 testing every Ohio nursing home’s staff and residents based on assessment.
If a facility decides it can safely support outdoor visitation, it must create visitation policies following guidelines defined in the state order. The guidelines enforce that visitors schedule outdoor visitation with the facility, visitations cannot extend more than an hour and each resident can have no more than three visitors. Visitors must be screened for a temperature and symptoms. Both parties must also wear a mask and are required to stay 6 feet apart.
The full list of the guidelines is available at odh.ohio.gov.
LSS Kensington Place
LSS Kensington Place Executive Director Nan Stewart said she is proud to say the independent living, assisted living and memory care senior community has a clean COVID-19 case record.
Stewart believes the staff and residents’ religious use of hand sanitizer, masks, social distancing and other state-mandated guidelines helped Kensington ward off the virus, and allowed Kensington to commence outdoor visitation for its assisted living facility on June 8.
Prior to visitations, Stewart saw a sadness in Kensington’s residents only a slowing of the pandemic could cure.
“We saw anxiety and loneliness,” Stewart said. “(Residents) just said, ‘I miss my family.’”
Kensington offered video call opportunities on laptops set up by staff. And the activities and small groups Kensington offered reached all-time high attendance of residents looking for socialization, she said.
That June 8 when outdoor visitation started is the day Stewart remembers residents received what they wanted most.
“We’re trying to make (the outdoor visitation) as comfortable as possible so that they’re sitting on a patio and enjoying company, and not having to worry about COVID-19,” Stewart said. “It’s hard when they’re wearing a mask and not allowed to touch.”
The assisted living facility follows ODH’s guidelines, and visitation hours are scheduled between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Visits are 30 minutes.
Grace House Memory Care residents still have the opportunity to see loved ones through a Plexiglas wall located off the memory care patio.
Any visits are supervised by a staff member to guarantee there’s no accidental contact and that masks stay on.
“The wearing of the mask is our biggest challenge,” Stewart said. “To wear it over your chin, mouth and nose is sometimes more challenging than we think.”
To further guarantee residents’ health, any items visitors intend to give to the residents are first sanitized and then given to the resident after the visit.
Kensington offers four areas for visits: two under a canopy in the shade, one under a portico, and the last in a flower garden in the memory care area.
“They are just delighted that they can gather as outside visitation, after that came into effect,” Stewart said. “I think this will be our new norm for a bit.”
For the Alloys, the distanced life they now live due to the health risks brought on by the pandemic isn’t easy.
“It’s boring, it’s not comfortable – well, it’s comfortable physically but not psychologically,” Alloy said. “It’s a routine, and the days are long.”
But both Alloy and his wife – both in their 90s with pre-existing conditions – know the guidelines are for their well-being.
“While we’ve been cooped up in our apartment, they are very strict for our protection,” Alloy said. “We feel very lucky that the staff here has taken such good care of us.”
Menorah Park & Montefiore
Menorah Park and Montefiore in Beachwood, which officially affiliated under the Menorah Park name July 1, refused to take COVID-19 lightly from the very beginning.
Menorah Park jumped into gear to fight the spread of COVID-19 before state mandates, with measures like enforcing mask use, obtaining an unlimited supply of personal protective equipment, no resident visitation, monitoring hand-washing and teaching based on guidance from the Cuyahoga County Board of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, developing partnerships with Cleveland Clinic to provide COVID-19 tests, and physicians switching to telemedicine visits, said Richard Schwalberg, Menorah Park and Montefiore COO.
Administrator Ari Hyman, in an email, attributed Montefiore’s lack of COVID-19 cases in residents since April to a comprehensive plan centered on monitoring residents and staff, and following strict infection control protocols. Montefiore enforced masks and frequent hand washing, limited communal dining and activities, tested residents displaying any possible symptoms and had sick staff stay home and speak with a Montefiore physician before returning to work.
To cater to residents missing their families, both senior living communities devised options unique to the physically distant time.
Menorah Park offered phone calls on iPads, with staff help, to residents’ loved ones. Also, a donor gave the campus a robot on wheels named Beedo, which staff can control via a remote control to do resident visits and provide entertainment and iPad video calling, Schwalberg said. It also offered by-appointment, 15-minute window visits for residents to see their families behind glass.
For those still missing their families, Menorah Park recently started offering live outdoor entertainers for residents to enjoy through open doors and windows as well as other activities provided by its life enrichment team.
In the same vein, Montefiore created a communication concierge position to schedule video calls between residents and their families. Montefiore’s life enrichment team provided residents with activities and crafts to combat physical and psychological effects of isolation, as well as encouraged walks in the courtyard for fresh air.
But with Ohio nursing homes able to open outdoor visitation July 20, residents on the campus could soon see faces in person they’ve only dreamed of very soon. Menorah Park’s assisted living residences – Stone Gardens and Wiggins Place – and R.H. Myers apartments, all in Beachwood, already started outdoor visitation June 8. Montefiore’s assisted living facility, The Weils in Bainbridge Township, did as well.
“We anticipate (Menorah Park and Montefiore) will begin offering scheduled, outdoor visitation (July 20) with all safety protocols in place following the governor’s orders,” Hyman said.
Menorah Park will provide additional information in the coming weeks to residents’ families regarding nursing homes’ visitation policies. Both nursing homes will follow ODH’s guidelines, as done at the assisted living and independent living facilities.
“We’re going to evaluate and adjust, like if there’s an increase in hospitalizations in Cuyahoga County, we may have to adapt the guidelines and be careful,” Schwalberg said. “We’re going to think positive and make sure we keep people safe.”
Wexner Heritage Village
To Wexner Heritage Village Administrator Kim Fullerton, educating staff and residents about COVID-19 – how they can contract the virus and the safety measures to protect themselves and others – are the biggest pieces of its pandemic-fighting solution.
On top of the education, the Columbus senior living organization made sure residents and staff had the right PPE, visitors were reduced and extra cleaning was done – all before the state mandated these guidelines, Fullerton said.
The senior facility had to get creative to distract residents in its independent and assistant living facility, memory care center and nursing home from any feelings of isolation caused by the pandemic. Residents could FaceTime loved ones on tablets. Family members could also make appointments for 30-minute window visits.
WHV also introduced live entertainment, like outdoor music for residents to enjoy from inside.
“Music always brings people together,” Fullerton said. “It’s really helped with the isolation factor, and music is an instant mood lifter for pretty much everyone.”
The activity staff concocted other entertainment like foreign language classes and travel experiences through YouTube for memory care residents. Staff and residents started scrapbooking together, and created a knitting and sewing club.
Outdoor visitation started at Creekside at the Village, the independent and assisted living facility, June 8 following ODH guidelines.
However, following the state’s creation of the Ohio Public Health Advisory System, Franklin County was marked as a level three public health emergency with “very high exposure and spread,” and nearing level four. Now, Fullerton is unsure visitation would be a safe move for nursing home residents.
“We have not set a date in mind, because there are some things that we need to talk through safety-wise being that Franklin County is a level three,” Fullerton said. “... I would not suspect that we are going to be moving to open visitation until we at least can get out of this level three zone in Franklin County.”
The family members of nursing home residents Fullerton has spoken with have taken the hesitance to start visitation well, knowing it’s for their loved ones’ safety, she said.
“What I would continue to tell family members is that we’re in the business of caring for everybody and safety first,” Fullerton said. “I’m also a nurse, and my first priority is to do no harm. That’s the reason that we’re doing everything.”