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Ohio Nursing Home Visits Encouraged, Though Staff Still Rejecting Vaccines

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The nursing home COVID-19 death toll jumped by nearly 1,300 in the last week, as the Ohio Department of Health added in 4,000 unaccounted-for deaths to the state’s running total. But with lower overall statewide case numbers and vaccines, visits to nursing homes are allowed and even being encouraged.

More than half of the COVID deaths in Ohio have been in nursing homes. But many workers in nursing homes and long term care facilities who were moved to the front of the vaccine line are still rejecting their place in it.

Around half of nursing home staffers are still turning down the vaccine, according to Pete Van Runkle with the Ohio Health Care Association, which represents those facilities.

But that’s a slight improvement over earlier rejection rates. And while Gov. Mike DeWine said he won’t mandate vaccines, Van Runkle said some facilities are, but not all – for a reason.

“Obviously, staffing is critically needed and folks are a little bit a little bit hesitant, hesitant to to put any more barriers in the way of folks coming to work for us," Van Runkle said.

Van Runkle said his group hasn't taken a position on a plan floated on "The State of Ohio" by Gov. Mike DeWine in January to create a certification program to show how many staffers and residents have been vaccinated. He said such a program hasn't been brought forward.

But Van Runkle said nearly all residents have been vaccinated, and visitation is allowed in 67 counties that are no longer red on the federal COVID map. 

Van Runkle said PPE, masks and social distancing are still required. But he said along with visitation, compassionate care visits are always allowed – not just at the end of life. And he said they're being told to encourage them to help residents deal with isolation.

“You need to make full use of compassionate care, because not only is it important in those kind of situations like an end of life situation, but people suffer a decline from social isolation," Van Runkle said.

Gov. Mike DeWine said in a press briefing Monday that he's sending a letter to all nursing homes reminding them they must allow compassionate care visits.

He added that the state will also publish a map that goes along with the federal map showing where visitation is allowed.

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