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Few Oneida County nursing homes are accepting visitors, despite loosened restrictions

Waterville Residential Care Center
Waterville Residential Care Center in Waterville

Oneida County houses 17 nursing homes–the most in the Mohawk Valley. But despite the state loosening restrictions on nursing home visits last Friday, only about one-third of those facilities are actually allowing visitors.

This past Sunday, Eastern Star Home in Oriskany opened its doors for family members to visit its residents.

“This will be the first time in quite a period of time they've actually had an inside visit,” said Eastern Star’s administrator, Jeff French. He said his facility was one of the lucky ones throughout the pandemic.

“We were very fortunate,” said French. “We had no resident deaths the entire time. So we're going on just about a year now and we've only had one resident positive [COVID-19] case in that last year.”

Because Eastern Star fared so well, it was able to meet the 14-day COVID-free requirement that seems to be barring most nursing homes in the county from letting in visitors.

Waterville Residential Care Center was not as fortunate as Eastern Star this past year. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports that Waterville has had 29 COVID-19 cases and three deaths since last March.

Still, they were able to reopen their doors last week to visitors, and their administrator, Amy Jennings, said the visits have been emotional, to say the least.

“There's a lot of emotions when you have a visit,” said Jennings. “There's a lot of happiness, there are also tears. They’re a very, very emotional thing for the residents and for their families.”

Jennings said that these heartfelt reunions have been immensely rewarding for herself and her staff.

“You know, this is exactly what we're here for, and it's that feels so good,” she said. “This is the most important thing we could be doing right now.”

Visits at both facilities are by appointment only with several precautionary measures taken such as PPE, plexiglass, increased ventilation, and decreased occupancy.

Even with these restrictions in place, administrators and staff are just happy to reunite families with residents–who no longer have to endure the pandemic alone.