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Gov. DeWine Reminds Nursing Homes To Allow Compassionate Care Visits

In this March 6, 2020, photo, tissues, gloves, and masks greet visitors at the South Shore Rehabilitation and Skilled Care Center, in Rockland, Mass.
In this March 6, 2020, photo, tissues, gloves, and masks greet visitors at the South Shore Rehabilitation and Skilled Care Center, in Rockland, Mass.

Gov. Mike DeWine is sending a letter to all Ohio's nursing homes to make sure they're clear on the federal government's guidelines for visitations, which remain heavily restricted nearly a year into the pandemic.

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.

Acknowledging the negative impact those lockdowns had on residents, the state gradually began allowing outdoor visits at long term care facilities and nursing homes over the summer. In September, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued new regulations that curbed visitations once more.

Under those rules, which DeWine says supercedes any state policies, nursing homes must meet three main criteria to allow visits: No new onset of COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days, the facility is not conducting outbreak testing, and the county positivity rate is below 10%.

However, DeWine said that 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 wellbeing is suffering or at risk of declining.

DeWine said his letter to nursing homes reminds them of "two important things."

"Each nursing home needs to check their county positivity rate every week to determine their visitation status… Number two, to remind nursing homes to allow for compassionate care visits," DeWine said.

Ursel McElroy, director of the Ohio Department of Aging, said residents are not only at a high risk of illness and death from COVID-19, but they're also suffering from isolation and a lack of socialization during the pandemic. If families are being denied a compassionate care visit, and believe they qualify, McElroy said families can contact the state Long-Term Care Ombudsman at 1-800-282-1206.

Ohioans can check on the state's coronavirus website if visitations are allowed at their loved ones' facility.

Vaccine Eligility Stays Put

The Ohio Department of Health on Monday reported an increase of 1,611 new COVID-19 cases and 58 deaths. There were 120 more hospitalizations and 16 ICU admissions in the last day.

While deaths have kept steady, DeWine said the number of COVID patients in hospitals continue to trend downward, "and we're certainly happy to see that as well."

Ohio has yet to announce a timeline for the next phase of vaccine distribution, which DeWine said will remain at the current priority group of residents 65 and older, in addition to people with developmental disabilities, school staff and nursing home residents and employees.

DeWine asserted that 87% of the state's deaths have come among people 65 and older, and they will remain at the front of the line until demand is satisfied.

"We're anxious to move it, but we're not going to move it as long as we have 65 year olds out there having a difficult time scheduling a vaccine," DeWine said.

DeWine said almost 60% of Ohioans ages 80 and older have received their first vaccine dose, but supplies remain scarce. He also called on hospitals and medical providers to be more proactive in reaching out to patients born with developmental or cognitive disabilities, saying that he's heard reports of people getting denied vaccine appointments.

Pressure to expand vaccine eligiblity has come from hundreds of groups across the state, from child care workers to police officers, but DeWine said they're working to determine what highly-exposed populations will end up in Phase 1C. Even then, the governor said that eligiblity will expand gradually, emphasizing that age remains the best indicator for COVID-19 mortality.

"If you look at people 50 and older, what you'll find is that 97-98% of all deaths have come in that age group," DeWine said.

Many Pfizer and Moderna vaccine doses were delayed are expected to arrive early this week after being delayed because of recent winter weather. Because of those postponed shipments last week, DeWine said some health care providers avoided canceling vaccination clinics by tapping into second doses, which will now be backfilled. DeWine is urging providers to expand their schedules into evenings or the weekend in order to catch up with any canceled appointments.
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Gabe Rosenberg