Filipi rushed from his home in Ohio after a hospice worker called him to say he needed to come see his father at Bethany Retirement Living on University Drive as his condition was worsening.
“To be honest, I didn’t think that I’d be able to see him again,” Filipi said. “It was rough, but I’m relieved to get to see him in person one more time.”
He flew in from Columbus, Ohio, on Friday, Jan. 29, and brought his 83-year-old father a box of peanut butter and chocolate buckeyes, a treat from his home.
Filipi was able to visit his father indoors, one-on-one, because more and more nursing homes and assisted living centers in the Fargo-Moorhead area are reopening their doors to visitors since COVID-19 cases have fallen.
Each facility’s protocols vary, but in recent weeks, 58 of North Dakota’s 78 skilled nursing facilities, or 74%, have reopened and are allowing some sort of indoor visitation, said Christopher Larson, chairman of the state’s task force on reuniting residents and families.
Of the state’s basic care and assisted living centers, 121 of 134 facilities, or 90%, were permitting indoor visitation, Larson said.
Dave Filipi, of Columbus, Ohio, enters Bethany Retirement Living on University Drive in Fargo to visit his father after more than a year. C.S. Hagen / The Forum
While no major changes on visitation guidelines were reported by the Minnesota Department of Health, the state is beginning to loosen general restrictions that have been in place since March 2020. No information on the number of nursing homes open for indoor visitation was immediately available.
One stipulation that the Minnesota Department of Health insists on for indoor, in-person visitation: A facility cannot have any new COVID-19 cases for at least 14 days. Other guidelines include social distancing, limiting the number of visitors per resident to one at a time, and limiting the movement of visitors inside a facility.
“We have a flexible visitation policy that allows each facility to adjust depending on their cases in the facility and in the community,” said Scott Smith, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health.
In North Dakota, about 60% of the 1,422 deaths related to COVID-19 have come from long-term care facilities, said Josh Askvig, state’s AARP director.
“We have always said protecting residents — given the seriousness of the impact that COVID-19 has had on residents of nursing homes — is number one. But we’ve also been very clear that the state should be ensuring that as visitation is allowed to return that it is done in a careful and deliberate manner,” Askvig said.
Despite the drop in COVID-19 cases, some people in the Fargo area still can’t go see their loved ones.
For the past 11 months a pane of glass has separated Pam Matchie-Thiede from her 91-year-old father, Jim Matchie, who lives at Riverview Place in Fargo. Even though the facility is allowing visitation from family members, she still can’t give him a hug.
Matchie-Thiede has health concerns of her own, and while her father has already received the COVID-19 vaccine, she hasn’t. The Forum featured her and her father in a story in March, and she’s still bringing her father groceries and visits from behind a glass door.
“He’s really getting excited about getting this over with. We got a notification that he can receive visitors under strict conditions, and he sent out requests for notebooks, a new alarm clock and glue,” Matchie-Thiede said.
Jim Matchie peers through his window at his daughter Pam Matchie-Thiede in March 2020. Her reflection is visible in the window. C.S. Hagen / The Forum
At Eventide facilities in the metro area, visitation is allowed, but with precautions. All residents and staff have received their first vaccinations, and some have already received their second shot, said Carrie Carney, vice president of marketing for Eventide Senior Living Communities.
“We are still needing to follow federal regulations as far as visitation,” Carney said. “As long as we can continue to have no cases, we can continue to have those visits.”
All visitors have to undergo a screening process, and must wear the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to visit with a loved one, Carney said.
Similarly, at the Meadows on University in Fargo, visitors need to go through a screening process, wear the proper PPE, and visitation is conducted on a one-on-one basis, administrator Jason Carlson said.
“It’s nice to have people coming in again,” Carlson said, adding that the facility’s doors opened about two weeks ago. “The residents love it, the families love it, and we like to see those interactions happening again.”
Recently at Bethany Retirement Living, where Filipi’s father lives, assisted living residents have been able to visit loved ones during workday afternoons, said Grant Richardson, senior executive for development and community relations.
“Moving into February we will be able to go to unlimited visitation from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. Of course, this is subject to change,” Richardson said.
Visiting will require wearing a mask, proof of a negative COVID-19 test within seven days and a screening process that includes taking a visitor’s temperature, Richardson said.
Larson said he worries about coronavirus variants hitting North Dakota before most people are vaccinated.
“But I think there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Larson said. “I can’t wait for the day that our residents can have as many loved ones in the facility as they want.”