ST. LOUIS ( -- Human interaction is something that's been missing for all of us throughout this pandemic, especially some of our most vulnerable. 

Earlier this week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are changing that. 

For the last year, Mignon Gianella and other residents of Ballwin Ridge Health and Rehabilitation, have been shut out from the outside world. 

"When they told us they were shutting the building down, it literally broke my heart. I cried for like two to three days," Gianella said. 

Before the pandemic, Gianella's sister would visit her several times a week. On March 12, 2020, nursing homes' doors were closed to the public and their visits were through a glass window. 

On Monday, the CMS announced it would allow outdoor and some indoor visitations at its facilities. 

"We are doing it by certain hours a day, leaving times in between that we have the appropriate time to sanitize the units that we'll be in," explained Kimberly Wyatt. 

Wyatt, administrator at Ballwin Ridge, said it's been a very hard year on her residents. She says she saw levels of depression she didn't think was possible, and now, things are finally turning around. 

VOYCE executive director, Marjorie Moore, agrees. VOYCE is an advocacy group for folks living inside these nursing and rehabilitation facilities. Moore says this is a huge step in the right direction. 

"Just the joy of being able to see your family members. There's something so special about that, and being able to talk face to face," Moore continued. 

If you're unable to visit in person, there are other options. 

"Send them a car, write them a letter, do anything you can to keep that connection going," Gianella said. 

News 4 is still waiting to hear what the Missouri's Health Department has to say on opening other nursing and rehab facilities in the state. For now, only those that operate under Medicare-Medicaid guidelines are allowing visitors. For residents in Illinois, no state-wide policy changes have been made yet. If you have a loved one inside an Illinois facility, you can check with their individual center to see if anything has changed. 

Copyright 2021 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved


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