OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – It’s been a long three months for Oklahomans with loved ones in long-term care facilites, but although authorities are allowing them to visit again, it’s not quite over yet.
The Oklahoma State Health Department (OSDH) released guidelines Friday allowing visits once again, but there’s been some concern and confusion.
Officials with OSDH tell us this plan is flexible, and the bottom line here is that it really all depends on where a facility is and what they have the capability to do.
Starting Monday, June 15th, visitors are once again allowed in long term care facilities.
“It’s extremely important for the resident mental health, and important for the family members mental health. We’re glad that we’re reaching this conversation … but it will not be an easy process,” said President and CEO of Care Providers Oklahoma, Steven Buck.
For most, this won’t be something as quick as they’d hoped.
Each facility has to meet certain benchmarks to be able to reopen their doors.
“It’s hard not to feel like we’re being teased because we’ve clamored for weeks and weeks saying we have to be able to see our child or parent … whatever the case is … to no avail to deaf ears, and even this is just partially there and their playing it by ear,” said John Fenn, who’s son is in a group home.
The plan introduced in three phases.
To even qualify for phase one, a facility has to have zero active COVID-19 cases.
“Facilities need time to prepare there is no margin of error here with one positive case visitation will close,” said the Executive Director Mary Brinkley, with LeadingAge Oklahoma. “There’s a lot of facilities that are going to take their time and do this carefully and make sure that it’s done in such a way that it will protect all the residents and the staff in these communities.”
From phase one, to phase two, then phase three… each relaxing restrictions a little more.
Each phase is two weeks apart.
Meaning you’ll need to be in phase one successfully for two weeks before you can move on to phase two.
“There are different recommendations based on whether your spread is on the rise or not that guidance is where you should be based on what it is in the community,” said Oklahoma Deputy Secretary of Health and Mental Health, Carter Kimble. “If a skilled nursing home in Tulsa has a question today it’s not going to be the same answer as a residential care facility in Ardmore … and that’s just kind of the reality we face.”
To get to phase three- which is limited visitation for all residents- facilities must have personal protective gear, proper screening, and a downward trend of cases in the surrounding community.
Some guidlines even reccomending visits only be allowed to happen outside.
“We want to make sure that facilities are empowered to do their own assessments. To say you know what because of space because of staff limitations, because of PPE limitations, we’re not ready to open back up,” said Kimble.
Health experts acknowledge, the phases will take time… especially with COVID-19 cases on the rise in some parts of our state.
“We might make progress and have some visitation available, but then we might have to step back,” said Buck.
Some Oklahomans are just happy to hear the conversation is at least starting.
“I know it’s going to go through phases so I’m just waiting until it’s my turn,” said Edward McArthur, whose wife has been in a nursing home for three years now.
John Fenn’s son has been in a group home for 16 years now.
He has the body of a 40-year-old, but mind of a 4-year-old.
Fenn says he also has to think about if short, on-site visits are what is even best for his son.
“They’re talking about a visitation on site and with our son when he sees dad coming through that door or he sees mom coming he knows he’s going home he knows he’s going to run errands all over town, so to just go and visit him and then say goodbye could potentially do more emotional damage and cause anger and outbursts and everything else once we leave,” he said.
Mental health is a concern for a lot of Oklahomans with loved ones in long-term care facilities.
“It would be naive of us to think that depression and anxiety concerns around loneliness and concerns around things like isolation and that aren’t health concerns… they are,” said Kimble.
All parties agree this new approach is going to take collaboration and transparency.
“This is an example, the return of visitation that is going to require unparalleled cooperation and collaboration between the state which is our regulator and guiding body between our operators between our residents and family members,” said Buck.