PARMA, Ohio — Saturday, March 13 marked one year since everything changed for Ohio nursing home residents and their families. 

What You Need To Know

  • Harriet Watson, 91, passed away from "COVID-19 pneumonia"

  • She was living in a Parma nursing home while battling dementia

  • Her daughters were not allowed to visit for six months at the start of the pandemic

  • They were granted a "compassion care" visit once Watson's health significantly declined

In the past year, more than 174,000 people have died in nursing homes due to COVID-19 in the U.S.

The loss is compounded when so many families haven’t been able to visit, or even hug, their loved one due to the pandemic.

For a northeast Ohio family, and so many others like them, watching their mother live and die with dementia from afar only amplified their grief. 

Kim Vah and Diane Novey went from visiting their mom, Harriet Watson, 91, in a Parma nursing home every week, to not being allowed to see her for six months.

By the time they were allowed to see her again in person, they said her dementia had really progressed

“It was hard to see her, you know, it was hard to tell if she could recognize us,” Vah said. “Just to see if she understood us or what was happening. You could just see she started going down more and more decline.”

Then during the holidays, the nursing home was hit hard. 

“They were testing everybody and they had a lot of COVID patients, a lot,” she said.

In December, Watson tested positive for COVID-19.

“But she was asymptomatic, so they sent her out to another nursing home,” Vah said.

The sisters said after that, their mother's health began to decline. 

“She started to really go down with her eating and drinking,” Vah said. “They called it the depression because of COVID.”

After two weeks, their 91-year-old mother was allowed to come back to her nursing home, but she never bounced back. 

“I think I felt frustrated a little bit because, I mean, we were at their mercy and everything,” Novey said, describing her frustration with the nursing home restrictions during the pandemic.

In January, they brought in hospice care. For the first time in nearly a year, they were allowed to truly be with their mom. 

“We were able to hold her and, you know, we told her we love her and we gave her a kiss,” Vah said.

On Jan. 26, Vah got the call that her mother had died. The cause listed on her death certificate was COVID-19 pneumonia.  

The devastating part of this pandemic is how it has robbed so many families of the ability to say goodbye to their loved one or even give them a proper funeral. The daughters said they are grateful they had those moments.

“Her suffering, if there was any, is over,” Novey said. “She's in a better place.”

“Instead of being down here where she can't see us, she's up there looking down and watching,” Vah added.

The daughters worry their mom felt alone in her final months.

New CDC guidelines will be preventing similar fates. It says nursing homes should now be allowing responsible indoor visits for all residents at all times, with a few exceptions.