CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Loved ones across the state were reunited Monday as some assisted living facilities allowed outdoor visitation for the first time in months since COVID-19 hit.
Visitors are still not allowed inside facilities or at nursing homes.
19 Investigates is looking into what lessons advocates say can be learned from the pandemic.
There have been 1,641 deaths and 8,606 cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff in nursing homes in Ohio since the state started tracking the toll of the pandemic, according to the latest numbers from the Ohio Department of Health.
We are including the 369 deaths confirmed by ODH in our total, before the reported April 15 date on the state’s website.
Nursing homes make up about 70 percent of deaths from the virus in Ohio.
They are badly hit for many reasons, including a lack of PPE, staffing shortages and a high fatality rate among older populations.
“What we’re going to find out later, is there’s going to be some nursing homes that did a great job, and there are going to be some nursing homes that were very unsafe,” said William Eadie, a nursing home abuse lawyer with Eadie Hill Trial Lawyers in Cleveland.
He speaks with families every day who still feel cut off from their loved ones.
“I think even before the pandemic and COVID-19, there was not enough oversight of Ohio nursing homes,” he said.
Ohio has ombudsmen who act as advocates for residents and their families inside nursing homes.
You can learn more about them here.
The state has not been sending ombudsmen into facilities during the pandemic.
Regional representatives have been calling families and residents and sometimes use video technology to make observations in homes, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
19 Investigates just learned they've talked to more than 6,000 people and made more than 2,000 contacts with providers to date.
There are federal guidelines for infection control inside nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Eadie said COVID-19 outbreaks show us what happens when those aren't followed.
He hopes the pandemic teaches nursing homes valuable lessons on this.
“When something like this happens it really tests the system, it shows where the weak spots are, where the nursing homes are that have not taken adequate precautions,” Eadie said.
It's possible this is not the last shutdown we'll see at nursing homes due to a health emergency.
Advocates hope facilities have a better plan in place next time to keep families in the loop.
The Ohio Department of Health has a complaint unit to investigate allegations of wrong-doing in nursing homes, specifically non-compliance with state and federal regulations.
You can find out more here.