COLUMBUS — The Alzheimer’s Association and the Ohio Health Care Association (OHCA) have collaborated to provide best practice guidelines to caregivers with loved ones in assisted living, home care or skilled nursing facilities at a time when the state is collecting COVID-19 case data from those facilities.
The guidelines for those in assisted living or skilled nursing units include options that help families connect with residents while observing guidelines that prohibit visitation. The home health care guidelines center around preventative actions a caregiver should take before allowing a paid health care professional in their home.
On Monday, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced that he had directed the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) to collect more specific information regarding cases of COVID-19 in Ohio nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospitals. Data will be posted to Coronavirus.Ohio.Gov every Wednesday.
OHCA Executive Director Pete Van Runkle said the Ohio Health Care Association supports the state reporting. “Families and state officials need a complete picture of how COVID-19 is impacting our long-term services and supports providers to better understand the situation on the ground, and to provide the resources and support our members need to protect the lives of residents and employees.”
According to the OHCA, long-term services and supports providers serve an estimated 234,000 frail, elderly, and disabled Ohioans, Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Ohio’s skilled nursing and assisted living facilities have limited guests to facilities to protect the health of residents. On April 15, Dr. Amy Acton, Director of the Ohio Department of Health, issued an order requiring long-term care facilities to notify residents and families within 24 hours if a resident or staff member becomes infected.
“We are happy with Governor DeWine and Director Acton’s decision. Ohio’s long-term care facilities are working hard to help Ohio’s most vulnerable citizens and prevent the possible spread of COVID-19 in their facilities. The decision to report publicly, and notify families is one that the thousands of family caregivers the Alzheimer’s Association works with will welcome, and it will provide some peace of mind for them in these uncertain times,” said Trey Addison, Director of State Public Policy for the Alzheimer’s Association.
He added that “in this highly fluid time, the Alzheimer’s Association is working to support family caregivers, and individuals living with Alzheimer’s and dementia, by providing tips for our families, in coordination with OHCA, so we can ensure family members with loved ones in a facility can maximize their time with a loved one, while coordinating with facilities to create a safe environment.”
In addition to taking advantage of virtual visits using videoconferencing technology, other suggestions for caregivers include:
• Sending photo albums or cards
• Sharing your loved one’s favorite music on a device that can be played in their room
• See if the facility will allow an outdoor bird feeder your loved one can see
Van Runkle said the tips are important because although Governor DeWine is preparing to reopen Ohio’s economy, it is unclear when it will be safe for Ohio’s assisted living and long-term care facilities to allow family visits.“Until there is widespread testing and a more consistent supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) it will continue to be necessary to restrict visitations. Our number one concern is for the health and safety of those we serve and for the caregivers who are caring for them,” Van Runkle said.
Currently, 220,000 Ohioans live with Alzheimer’s disease. Older people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias have more skilled nursing facility stays and home health care visits per year than other older people. Nationwide, according to the 2020 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report:
• Thirty-two percent of individuals using home health services have Alzheimer’s or other dementias
• Forty-two percent of residents in residential care facilities have Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
• Forty-eight percent of nursing home residents have Alzheimer’s or other dementias
Addison said, “Ohio will continue to be better prepared because of public and private partnerships in the fight against COVID-19. Our collaboration with OHCA is just one of many as we work to support families and their loved ones throughout Ohio.”
To get a list of the full tips, go to https://www.alz.org/centralohio/helping_you/covid-19news-and-information