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'No one is listening to us': Families want more time to see loved ones in nursing homes

The state requires nursing homes to allow for compassionate visits, but families say the visits are not long enough.

Before the pandemic hit, Wendy Smith of Canton said she, her mom and sister would visit her father everyday in the nursing home.

But that all changed when the state shut down nursing home visitations because COVID-19 was killing and infected many of the residents.

Smith says until last week, when she was allowed a compassionate care visit, the last time she saw her 82-year-old dad was October.

“He has lost weight and he cries all time when we talk to him on the phone he cries, and cries,” she said.

Smith’s father, Roger, suffers from dementia. She says she wants Gov. Mike DeWine to allow for more than 30 minutes per family member to visit a loved one in the nursing home.

Smith says it’s just not long enough especially since those who work in nursing homes get to spend more time with residents than family and that COVID-19 cases in Ohio nursing homes have dropped dramatically.

Ohio had 2,832 new cases among nursing home residents in one week in December, compared to 369 new cases statewide in the past week.

“Our feeling is no one is listening to us,” she says.

Visitation guidelines, according to Ohio's Long-Term Care Ombudsman, are set by the federal government, something the ombudsman agrees needs to change.

“The last time they updated their guidelines was Sept. 17 of 2020. We really want the federal government to loosen up these restrictions, especially in homes where there is a high vaccination rate. Let people in,” says Beverley Laubert, the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

Laubert lost her sister to COVID-19 in December.

She says what she hears from nursing homes is that what's holding them back from allowing longer visits are staffing issues.

“Because of the requirement for staff monitoring, it is a burden especially if facilities are already short-staffed because of covid,” she said.

Compassionate care visits, defined by the governor as "special visits in which a family member or other visitor provides comfort, support, and assistance to a resident whose well-being is suffering or at risk," can be made regardless of the facility's visitation status based on the Centers for Medicaid Services criteria.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rules say nursing homes can only allow general visits if there has been no new onset of COVID-19 in the past 14 days, no outbreak testing is being conducted and the county’s positivity rate is less than 10%.

Meanwhile, people like Smith just want to spend more time with their dad and worry that the lack of time is harming his health.

“My dad is declining. He can't see us. It's heartbreaking,” Smith said.

If you know of a nursing home that is not offering compassionate care visits you are urged to call the Ohio Ombudsman office to file a complaint at 1-800-282-1206.

Reasons for compassionate care visits under the governor’s order:

  • Were recently admitted and are struggling to adapt to their new surroundings
  • Are grieving over a death
  • Need encouragement with eating or drinking
  • Show signs of emotional distress, including speaking less than normal, crying more than usual, and/or changes in grooming habits
  • Were readmitted after an acute-care admission to the hospital
  • Were just put on anti-psychotic or antidepressant medicine or an appetite stimulant
  • Have dementia that has dramatically progressed recently