Visitors were allowed back to Indiana’s nursing homes last week with restrictions as Indiana entered Stage 4 of Gov. Holcomb’s reopening plan. Despite many rules still in place, professionals who work with older Hoosiers are happy for the changes.
Residents of Indiana’s long-term care facilities have not been able to see friends and relatives in person since the state largely shut down in March. As the state slowly opened in stages the last several weeks, nothing changed for nursing homes and similar facilities – until last week. That’s when new guidelines in line with Indiana State Department of Health regulations were announced for visiting long-term care facilities.
Visits will mainly be outdoors.
Lynn Clough, director of the state’s long-term care ombudsman program, says that’s an improvement.
“Some families have been doing window visiting but that’s not the same as actually seeing your loved one sitting across from you,” she said on a recent Noon Edition program. “The outdoor visitation, while it still has some restrictions … at least they have the opportunity to see their loved one and their loved one can see them.”
Clough says she understood the need for closing the facilities, but sees the gradual reopening as a positive step. She and her team of ombudsmen advocate for residents of long-term care facilities and their families. Their role has been affected by the coronavirus.
“Our calls started to change when visitation began to be restricted due to COVID,” she says. “We were getting calls from very frustrated family members who were not able to see their loved ones.”
Also, ombudsmen were not allowed in the facilities. Typically, they are very visible there as regular visitors.
Sarah Waddle is the state director for AARP, an organization that advocates for seniors. She says the restrictions have made things much more difficult for her organization to complete its mission, but she understands the reasons.
“There isn’t a playbook for this. It’s a little fast and furious to get all this figured out,” she says.
She also says loosening the restrictions will help AARP, the ombudsman office and residents and their families.
Clough says she is particularly glad that “essential family caregivers” will be allowed back in facilities. These are people, sometimes family members and sometimes not, who help residents bathe, eat and have familiar companionship. She says prior to COVID-19 many residents have a family member of friend in the facility with them daily or several times a week.
“That’s such a critical role because it gives the family member a chance to be with that loved on,” she says.
The new guidelines say caregivers who worked with patients before the pandemic can make scheduled visits lasting no more than two hours a day to provide care like they provided before. They must wear masks and practice social distancing with other residents and with the staff.
Visitors must wear face coverings for general outdoor visitations, and facilities must have areas that can allow for social distancing. Any food and drinks brought in by families must be consistent with a patient’s dietary restrictions.
AARP director Waddle says diligence to these kinds of behaviors is crucial to making sure nursing homes stay safe as visitors are welcomed.
“…That’s going to be super important when we open these facilities back up under specific guidelines … and I hope that these facilities all feel like they have appropriate staffing and appropriate equipment on hand to be able to manage these outdoor visitations,” she says. “And I hope the State Department of Health is really paying attention to see what is happening during this time.”
An FAQ about outdoor visitation and more specifics about these changes for long term care facilities have been posted at the state’s COVID-19 web page.
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