CLEVELAND — While COVID-19 cases are dropping and vaccinations are increasing, many Ohio families continue to struggle to visit loved ones residing in Ohio nursing homes.
The Ohio Department of Health reports the number of new COVID-19 cases in Ohio's nursing homes "has dropped significantly" to 343 cases last week compared to the peak of 2,832 new cases in December.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Health Care Association that represents nursing homes in Ohio says state vaccination numbers reflect 90,912 residents and 66,721 staff have received their first vaccine dose.
Plus, a check of the Ohio Department of Health's COVID-19 Dashboard reveals many nursing homes across the state are reporting zero or one current case.
Even so, many families continue to struggle to see loved ones — despite the improved conditions.
Wendy Grant says she has not been able to see her brother and is left unsure and worried about his physical and mental health.
Grant says she's "wondering if he ate today, if he took his medication, if he's going to have a seizure."
In some cases, in-facility visits are limited by federal guidelines imposed by the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid.
In particular, visitation is permitted according to this criteria:
- No new onset of COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days
- Facility not currently conducting outbreak testing
- COVID-19 county positivity rate at less than 10 percent
Currently, 21 counties, including Cuyahoga and those nearby, remain in a red zone where those guidelines can prevent in-facility visits.
But there are exceptions, and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine fired off a letter to Ohio nursing homes this week reminding them of what is called "compassionate care" guidelines.
"Under CMS guidelines," said DeWine, "compassionate care visits are always permitted." He stresses that does mean only "end of life" care. Instead, it can include lack of support, loss of a loved one or emotional distress, among many, many other examples.
DeWine even urged families to contact Ohio's Long Term Care Ombudsman if they continue to have difficulty arranging in-facility visits.