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Health Crisis Reveals Urgent Needs in Ohio Nursing Homes

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Faced with the devastating coronavirus crisis in nursing homes, AARP Ohio is urging the state to do more to protect residents and staff and improve communication with families.

The state’s nearly 1,000 facilities have been reeling from the rapid outbreak of the virus, which has claimed thousands of residents of care facilities nationwide.

“This is a perfect storm for the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes,” said Robert Applebaum, director of the Ohio Long-Term Care Research Project at Miami University’s Scripps Gerontology Center. “High touch, employees who are relying on public transportation, limited safety equipment, frail population equals big challenges.”

Anxious family members have often been unable to get good information or reach a relative in a long-term care facility during a prolonged lockdown in which in-person visits are banned.

“Requiring residents to go weeks or even months without any visits from loved ones is extremely serious,” said Holly Holtzen, AARP Ohio state director. The state should “require nursing homes to prioritize virtual visits and caregiver communications.”

Ohio issued an order in April requiring nursing homes and senior-living centers to notify residents and family members of any coronavirus case among residents and staff members within 24 hours. The locations and numbers are listed at odh.ohio.gov.

Seeking virtual visits

AARP Ohio has urged the state to consider funding for virtual visits, which could include video chats through FaceTime, Skype and Zoom and voice-activated stand-alone units for telehealth.

Nursing homes have been looking for ways to improve communication, including enhanced technology, said Mandy Smith, regulatory director for the Ohio Health Care Association (OHCA).

Some facilities are getting help. In Cincinnati and Hamilton County, the national nonprofit TCC Gives donated 25 iPads to about 20 retirement and nursing homes so residents could connect with their family and friends. Most of these facilities are affordable or low-income housing.

Advocates for nursing home residents, including AARP Ohio, are also pushing for greater use of coronavirus testing for residents and staff to contain the spread of the disease in long-term care facilities. Many of the state’s 73,000 nursing home residents share rooms with others, making social distancing difficult.

AARP also backs temporarily waiving licensing requirements to allow out-of-state professionals and advanced practice registered nurses to work in facilities, helping ensure an adequate workforce during the crisis.

As the coronavirus outbreak spread, Ohio facilities faced shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). Smith said the OHCA connected homes in need with grassroots sewing circles making homemade masks, but that’s not the ultimate solution.

“It’s great for what it is, but it’s not really PPE,” Smith said. “For a health care worker who has to get very close to a resident—bathing, showering or transferring them, for example—it’s just not effective.”

Better access to testing would help homes deploy limited PPE more effectively, she added.

For more on what the state government is doing about the virus, go to coronavirus.ohio.gov or call 833-427-5634.

Sarah Hollander is a writer living in Cleveland.

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