This Op-Ed appeared in the Journal Gazette June 15, 2020


Written by: Aisha R. Arrington

The human touch

Guidelines set for resuming care-facility visits

Aisha R. Arrington

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

– Desmond Tutu

Patricia, the oldest of five, took on the responsibility of checking in on her 82-year-old father several years ago when her mother passed away.

Pops, the name she fondly called her father, lived in a nursing home just 20 minutes away from her suburban home. While she believed that Pops received fairly good care, there were simple things she made sure of, including making sure he had Coca-Cola and his favorite lilac plug-in to help with some of the odors in his room. She always saw to it that his bedding was washed at home to keep his bed fresh.

Pops wasn’t a complainer and rarely had anything to say about any care issues. However, there were times Patricia came for her weekly check-ins that she would find her father with food on his face, dirty nails or a shoe on and no sock.

Nothing to throw a fit over – mistakes happen – they were just simple reminders that she needed to take her promise to her mother seriously.

But one Friday, Patricia was met with a cone-blocked door at the nursing home and a sign that read: Please Be Advised – No Visitors are Allowed. Three weeks later, the nursing home called to tell Patricia that her beloved Pops had passed away from complications of COVID-19.

State officials announced that, as of early May, 420 people tied to long-term care facilities had died of COVID-19, making up 36.5% of all such deaths in Indiana. It is no wonder that visitation has been prohibited.

Most families understand the need to be safe and the sacrifice nursing home staff make each time they enter the facility. Many are thankful for the care their loved ones are receiving. However, there is building anxiety about just how long this will go on.

Questions are being asked, such as, “Why can’t I see my mom if I dress in full protective equipment just like the nursing home staff?” Some are living with the burden of not knowing whether showers are being provided or if their loved one’s needs are being attended to in a caring and thoughtful manner. The worry never goes away.

The Indiana State Department of Health issued new guidelines that mandate long-term care facilities to share briefings about how the facility is handling issues with care and staff shortages, general information about COVID-19, the number of residents who have tested positive and the number of new positive cases (those in the past 14 days), and the number of residents who have died as a result of the virus.

Anyone with a concern or COVID-19 communication issue can email directly.

On May 18, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a memorandum titled “Nursing Home Reopening Recommendations for State and Local Officials.” It calls for weekly testing of nursing home staff and recommends a 28-day period since the onset of any new COVID-19 cases before visitation be allowed in nursing facilities.

There is hope now for worried families.

Data from a Japanese study show that transmission risk is 19 times greater indoors compared to outdoors. Considering this information, the state health department has provided guidance for long-term care facilities to begin offering outside visitation opportunities. Residents must have the ability to safely be outside, visitors must wear face coverings and use alcohol-based hand rub before and after visitation, and weather should be considered with sitting areas shaded from the sun.

Maybe now more than ever, residents living in our area nursing homes need our concern. Consider joining our advocacy efforts through serving on our board of directors or training to be a volunteer ombudsman. The light in the darkness can be found in the hard work of many nursing home workers, in the unique ways families are still staying in contact with their loved ones, and in all of the Pops of the world who have survived this virus.

We are all in this together.

There are ways to advocate for the best possible care for those living in our area nursing homes.

Residents and their families can get involved with Resident or Family Council. Resident Council is a great place for residents to share concerns. Some Resident Councils have been very influential with meal planning, creating a significant activity calendar, and creating change within the facility concerning issues with operations. Family Councils can be created by a group of concerned family members and are protected by law. Family Councils can work together to address care issues within the facility and be a voice for those that cannot advocate on their own behalf. Anyone wanting to report an allegation of mistreatment can file a formal complaint with the Indiana State Department of Health at 1.800.246.8909.

Community members can be trained as a Volunteer Ombudsman.

Ombudsman offices state-wide, supported through the Older American’s Act, investigated 200,000 nursing home complaints in 2015, according to the Administration on Aging. The LTC Ombudsman Program can train and support Volunteer Ombudsman, attend care plan meetings, provide education about resident rights, and provide information about how to advocate for quality care. Volunteer Ombudsmen are desperately needed to help visit the 85+ facilities that are located within the nine county area of Northeast Indiana. Volunteer Ombudsman can visit nursing homes and give a nursing home resident a much needed ear.

Marjorie celebrated her 90th birthday in a nursing home. She died nine days later. May her life be a reminder for the need of quality nursing home care and that there is a “life” behind the nursing home room number –

a life that should not be forgotten or uncared for.