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Compassionate Care Visit Requests Increase At Some Ohio Nursing Homes

The president of the Ohio Health Care Association, which represents several nursing homes in Northeast Ohio, is happy Gov. Mike DeWine is encouraging compassionate care visits for families.

In fact, requests for those visits have increased at several nursing homes and assisted living facilities since DeWine issued guidance last week to encourage family visits if a resident's mental health and physical health is declining, Peter Van Runkle said.

“It’s been growing,” he said. “Now, with the governor getting behind this in the way that he did, that has really moved things along in terms of the kind of just opening people’s eyes to that possibility. It was always there, but not everyone knew about it.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Ohio, nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been under restricted visitation policies to prevent viral spread.

One of the state's first actions when the COVID-19 pandemic began last March was to limit entry at nursing homes, except when residents were near death.

“The reality is, social isolation has been shown, over and over again, to result in bad outcomes for people living in facilities,” Van Runkle said.

In-person visits are good for mental health, Van Runkle said. He’s heard stories of people’s mental and physical health improving after seeing family.

“They had a resident who was really declining to the point that they were looking to put them on hospice,” he said. “They did a compassionate care visit, and the person snapped back, and did so much better just from that one visit.”

Facilities are able to have more visits if there are no new COVID cases in the last 14 days, no recent outbreak, and the county positivity rate is below 10 percent.

However, DeWine said even if a nursing home can't meet those criteria, compassionate care visits are always allowed. That covers not only end-of-life situations, but also special visits to provide comfort, support or assistance to someone whose well-being is suffering or at risk of declining.

“That’s good for the residents, good for the family, and really it’s good for the facility too, because the staff are watching folks decline, and that’s hard for them too.”

Van Runkle has personal experience with compassionate care visits. His mother died from COVID-19 a little more than a month ago, but he was able to say goodbye.

“I was able to be with her when she passed,” he said. “I was able to do compassionate care visits before she got to the end of life. I was already convinced, but in my mind that cemented you just have to allow this.”

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have struggled to balance preventing COVID-19 spread and ensuring residents can see their families to improve their mental health, he said

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