Nursing home visits

Alice Jones and her daughter Diane Abbott are shown in The Chatter Box, a visitation area within the Crawford County Care Center in Saegertown where Jones, 81, is a resident. Area nursing homes have been allowing visitors for the first time in about a year as Pennsylvania eases visitation restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some semblance of normalcy is back at nursing homes around Crawford County with visitors now allowed via scheduled appointments.

"It was a great feeling," said Alice Jones, 81, a resident of the Crawford County Care Center in Saegertown, of her daughter's recent visit. "It had been a year since I saw her in person."

Jones and her daughter, Diane Abbott of Meadville, had done telephone and video visits during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep each other company, but it just wasn't personal enough.

"I gave her a hug," Abbott said of the highlight of her visit with her mom.

"It was a great feeling," Jones said. "I've had both vaccinations so I'm good to go."

As coronavirus cases eased across the state and nursing home residents had been vaccinated, Pennsylvania lifted visitor restrictions in mid-March.

Letting in visitors — with restrictions — is the first chance nursing home residents have had for personal contact with family and friends in a year.

"Our joy is back!" Sheila Bundy said of allowing visitors to return. Bundy is nursing home administrator for the Grace Nursing Center at Wesbury United Methodist Community in Meadville.

"We've had a wonderful response from families," added Melissa Porter, Wesbury's marketing director. "Everyone is so excited. It's hard to put into words."

Specific rules on visitation, including actual contact between residents and visitors, vary from nursing home to nursing home. The homes are following Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) guidelines on visitation. Scheduled appointments are required to make a visit.

At the Crawford County Care Center, the preferred visitation area is outside, followed by a neutral area within the home with COVID safety barriers in place, with the least preferred option being within the resident's room.

"It requires scheduling to disinfect," Tonya Moyer, the Crawford County Care Center's administrator, said of inside visits within the nursing home.

While visits use social distancing, CMS guidance allows for close contact if the resident chooses, which may include touch, if the resident is fully vaccinated and wearing a properly fitting face mask. There also has to be hand hygiene before and after the visit plus the visitor has to wear provided personal protective equipment appropriately and keep socially distanced from everyone else throughout the visit.

Jones and Abbott were happy they could get together at The Chatter Box — a large neutral visiting area inside the Care Center. It's an area where core infection prevention guidelines can be maintained, Moyer said. 

"It was really spacious and I could hear very well," Jones said.

Wesbury is offering visitation at both its Grace Nursing Center and its Cribbs Residential Center.

"We've had a lot of out-of-town family and friends schedule visits," Bundy said.

Wesbury does limit the number of visitors on each neighborhood at Grace by appointment times in order to maintain social distancing and infection control as well as allow all residents the opportunity for visits.

Overall, Wesbury is able to schedule up to 330 one-hour appointments per week with a maximum of two visitors per appointment.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

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