BENNINGTON — For residents of the Vermont Veterans' Home, Sunday is doubly special: it marks not only Father's Day but the home's reopening to visitors.
Starting Sunday, the facility will be allowing pre-scheduled visits every day, said Veterans' Home CEO Melissa Jackson. But the visits are dependent on good weather, since they will be held outdoors — at the home's front porch and its courtyard across from the memorial — in accordance with state guidance.
Every week, each resident is allowed one visit of up to 30 minutes with up to two people at a time. Several time slots are available between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. each day, and administrators ask that appointments be made at least 48 hours in advance.
"We will ensure all Veterans and Members will receive one visit per week," Jackson said in an email Thursday.
The Veterans' Home suspended visitations March 13, about a week after Vermont saw its first novel coronavirus case in Bennington. The home, which is licensed for 130 beds, is Bennington County's largest long-term care facility, along with the Centers for Living and Rehabilitation, according to data from the Department for Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living.
In March, Gov. Phil Scott issued an order restricting visits to long-term care facilities in Vermont to protect the state's "most vulnerable, the elderly and the very ill" from exposure to the coronavirus.
On Thursday, CLR said visits were already taking place that day at a spot behind the facility. They were being held 1-4 p.m. for 15-minute periods.
"We will very gladly extend and adjust as necessary to allow families to see their loved ones," said CLR Administrator Suzanne Anair. "This has been a long and difficult time for many of them, and we are grateful for any visiting that can happen safely."
Two other nursing homes in town — Crescent Manor Rehabilitation and Bennington Health and Rehabilitation Center — are aiming to welcome visitors back sometime next week.
Brookdale Filmore Pond, a residential care home in Bennington, did not have a time frame as of Thursday afternoon. But visits should start back "soon," said Executive Director Lynne Stratton.
"We do not have our complete plan in place, as this directive just came out yesterday," she said, referring to state officials' announcement Wednesday that visitations could resume Friday.
Because of the ongoing risks from the COVID-19 disease, which state data shows affects the elderly at a disproportionately higher rate, facilities need to take precautionary measures with the visits.
This includes requiring visitors to wear a face mask, maintain social distance and be screened for the likelihood they have COVID-19, such as having their temperature taken to check for a fever.
Bennington Health and Rehab staff are currently being trained on the appropriate precautions and will be present to assist with the visits, said the center's Chief Medical Officer Richard Feifer.
At the Veterans' Home, visitors won't be allowed to directly hand residents items such as gifts, food and cards. The items must be given to a staff member supervising the visit, Jackson said. Social distancing also means there can't be any hugs, kisses, or hand-holding during the visits.
"I realize the guidelines around social distancing may seem harsh to some," she said. "The guidelines provided to us this week allow the much-needed social interactions between our Veterans and Members and their family members while reducing the risk of introducing COVID-19 into the facility."
Contact Tiffany Tan at firstname.lastname@example.org or @tiffgtan on Facebook and Twitter.