The Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky dates all the way back to 1888, and, as one can imagine, it has faced its share of challenges over the past 130-plus years. However, the current coronavirus pandemic has been a life-changing ordeal to citizens all across the globe and certainly has left an unforgettable impression on the hundreds of residents, caregivers, and staff members at the Homes (the other state-run facility, located in Georgetown, opened in 2003).
Departmental leadership began preparing for this crisis in February and has been careful to follow all the guidelines and safety precautions put forth by the Ohio Department of Health and Governor Mike DeWine. The OVH staffs also formed valuable relationships with Firelands Regional Medical Center in Erie County and Mercy Clermont Hospital near Brown County. Enhanced Care Units were established at each Home, even though there were no reported positive test results for COVID-19 for months. The new normal included screening upon entry for everyone, disallowing visitors and volunteers, the use of all relevant forms of PPE, social distancing and eliminating any congregation, including at mealtime. OVH-Sandusky even separated access between nursing and domiciliary operations.
Activities had to be altered as well, but the staff still found ways to keep up the morale of the nearly 700 residents and hundreds more employees who are working through these trials every day. Bingo, for example, now includes numbers being called from the hallway and residents winning donated gift cards instead of cash. At OVH-Sandusky, some residents and caregivers even broke into a “flash mob” one day, entertaining others with a surprise coordinated dance routine. On another day, residents participated in a socially distanced conga line. “Baseball” games include the use of a beach ball and a pool noodle.
At OVH-Georgetown, residents were treated to a custom car show in the parking lot recently. Similarly, a parade of bikers and supporters in other military vehicles passed through the grounds at Sandusky on Memorial Day. Some family members are visiting loved ones inside through the safety of a window.
After Lt. Governor Jon Husted suggested in a televised address that school-aged children might consider writing a note or letter to a veteran, the Homes have received many such correspondences. Others send blankets, pre-packaged consumables, books and more items.
And one of the most heartwarming days at the Homes occurred at OVH-Georgetown on May 16 as the Ohio National Guard administered tests to 139 residents and 234 staff members. Those test kits were then transported by a State Highway Patrol member to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center lab to be processed. Also, several members of the medical staff at Firelands Regional Medical Center assisted with rampant testing at OVH-Sandusky.
In the following days, ODVS began protocol to file a daily report disclosing statistics on test results for residents and staff members and care status for residents who are positive or have a suspected positive. Those figures are now posted in a daily chart available at OhioVets.gov and coronavirus.ohio.gov.
On May 19, OVH learned of its first COVID-related death – an 88-year-old former Marine and Korean War veteran.
“Like so many in America, we are now faced with COVID-19 in our Homes,” ODVS Director Deborah Ashenhurst said in a statement released that day. “Fortunately, our administrative staff, nurses, doctors, and other professionals have prepared for this for more than three months. Our Homes have cared for our veterans for more than 100 years. In the face of this new challenge, we are resolved to continue this mission.”