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In-person visits create balancing act at assisted living centers during COVID-19 crisis

Families wishing to visit their loved ones must make an appointment, social distance, wear masks and have temperature screenings.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — More than 1,200 coronavirus deaths have been tied to long-term care facilities in Ohio.

Despite that stark number – which represents 59 percent of all deaths from the coronavirus in this state – in-person visits resumed this week at assisted living centers with some restrictions.

Families wishing to visit their loved ones must make an appointment, social distance, wear masks and have temperature screenings.

“Having her here is almost the same as having my arms around her,” said Herb Minkin, referring to his daughter Mindy, who came to visit her parents Tuesday at the Wesley Woods in New Albany.

According to the latest state figures gathered by the Ohio Department of Health and published on June 8, the assisted living facility has 14 current cases.

But Rhonda St. Onge, the facility’s executive director, told 10 Investigates the facility has not had any new cases within the past couple of weeks.

Still, knowing that the cases are difficult to tabulate without widespread testing and that long-term care facilities have been hard hit by COVID-19, St. Onge said the new guidelines for visitation force the facilities into somewhat of a balancing act – weighing public and patient safety against the desire for families to finally see their loved ones again.

“It leaves us in an apprehensive position because we don’t want to introduce any active virus to the community. And it’s almost impossible to tell if you are… but we are taking every precaution we can,” she told 10 Investigates’ Bennett Haeberle.

Governor Mike DeWine told reporters more than a week ago that the state would closely monitor coronavirus cases as visits began at assisted living centers but are still prohibited at other long-term care facilities like skilled nursing centers.

Herb Minkin and his wife, Marilyn, both acknowledged that they felt fortunate to have not fallen ill when so many people living in long-term care facilities have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The hugging piece is hard,” their daughter, Mindy Hall, said.

Marilyn jumped in: “We are huggers.”

Mindy, a retired teacher with no children of her own, says the last time she hugged her parents was three months ago. And in that time they’ve had a bit of role reversal.

“I’ve becoming the parent and I said ‘now you are wearing your masks and you are not doing this and not doing that,’” Hall said, adding that she’s been trying to isolate herself during the crisis as much as possible knowing she has wanted to be able to come visit her parents.

10 Investigates also spoke to Barbara Cummings, who visited her mother at a Mahoning County assisted living center on Monday.

Cummings says she was glad to be able to visit with her mother, but expressed concern that about the toll months in isolation has taken on her mother’s mental state.

“It’s just unbelievable that we are in this state right now,” Cummings said, adding that she’s also contacted state leaders advocating for beauticians to be able to come in to long-term care facilities – something that she says would brighten her mom’s spirits in a time where face-to-face interaction is a rare commodity.

“And she said you know what I am going to be 90 years old and this is how I’m going to live out my last days. It’s sad to hear that – you can’t make any promises. You just have to live in the moment,” she said.