Ohio nursing home residents get visitors for first time in months

Posted at 5:51 PM, Jul 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-20 19:52:07-04

GEORGETOWN, Ohio — Anita McKenzie was more than ready for Monday. Like thousands of other Ohioans with family members in nursing homes, she’d spent five months unable to see one of the most important people in her life without a phone or a pane of glass between them.

“I saw on TV where DeWine had said the 20th” would be the date in-person visits finally began again, she said. “So I was on it.”

She still couldn't hug her brother, Dave, when she saw him Monday at Villa Georgetown. Her family won’t be able to take him to a meal or on the long drives they’d enjoyed together since he moved into the nursing home. Government safety requirements mandated that they meet outdoors, wearing masks, and remain six feet apart throughout the entire visit. A worker took McKenzie's temperature beforehand. She and her brother sat on opposite ends of a plain white table under a tent.

But she was able to see him sitting in front of her, which is more than she’s done since March. It’s a start.

It could also, she hopes, help soothe some of the confusion, loneliness and distress he’s experienced since the shutdown began.

“It did a lot on his mental health because he’s got a traumatic brain injury,” McKenzie said. “So there were certain days when he couldn’t understand why we couldn’t come in and see him and sit down and talk to him.”

The illness caused by the new coronavirus spreads fast in congregate settings, and older patients are especially susceptible to its most serious complications. Ohio nursing homes have therefore been almost completely cut off from the outside world since March, when Gov. Mike DeWine announced they would close to visitors and most vendors to protect residents from COVID-19.

Daniel Wylie, executive director at Villa Georgetown, helped set up virtual therapy and pen pal programs to keep his residents engaged and healthy during the shutdown.

He could still tell that being isolated hurt them.

“It’s clear the virus itself is dangerous, especially to our population,” he said. “But what we have started to see is the anxiety, the depression, the sadness, the loneliness. They have been so used to having visits from family and friends and loved ones, and just taking that away, we are really starting to see the negative psycho-social effects.”

He wouldn’t have allowed even the outdoor visits if any COVID-19 cases existed within the facility. There were none on Monday, Wylie said.

He hopes it will stay that way.