Nursing homes are opening to visitors again after an announcement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). New rules will be put in place to protect nursing home residents and visitors from the coronavirus. Both residents and visitors need to stay aware of the new precautions so that they can stay safe.
Nursing Homes Safely Open To Visitors
On September 17th, 2020, the CMS revealed its nursing home visitors ban would cease. The ban was lifted in part to ease the emotional distress of residents and their families, who were unable to visit nursing homes for six months due to coronavirus concerns.
“While we must remain steadfast in our fight to shield nursing home residents from this virus, it is becoming clear that prolonged isolation and separation from family is also taking a deadly toll on our aging loved ones.”
— CMS Administrator Seema Verma
The ban was deemed necessary shortly after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., as this new virus can put seniors’ lives in great danger. In fact, some of the most deadly coronavirus outbreaks have taken place due to nursing home neglect from staff members.
As part of its announcement, the agency gave new guidelines for how families can safely visit their loved ones who are living in nursing homes.
While life likely will remain different until a cure for COVID-19 is found, ending the coronavirus nursing home ban is an important step in the road back to normalcy.
COVID-19 Nursing Home Visitor Rules
The CMS has put together a list of nursing home facility guidelines that should be followed for safe visitation.
Nursing home facilities will be following the protocols below:
- Residents and staff must be regularly tested for COVID-19
- All visitors and nursing home staff must wear masks and wash their hands
- Nursing home facilities must clean touched surfaces that are touched regularly
In addition, the CMS highly recommends that facilities test visitors for coronavirus.
“While not required, we encourage facilities in medium or high-positivity counties to test visitors, if feasible. If so, facilities should prioritize visitors that visit regularly (e.g., weekly), although any visitor can be tested.”
— Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
These guidelines will be in place for the duration of the pandemic. Further, if the county in which a facility is located has an uptick in COVID-19 cases, visitation restrictions could be tightened.
Risks vs. Drawbacks of Opening Nursing Homes
The nursing home visitors ban was a risky proposition. It was not popular with residents or their families. However, it was necessary to take that step shortly after the outbreak began.
The coronavirus nursing home ban allowed facilities to reduce the spread while medical professionals learned more about how the virus worked.
However, the CMS found that there is also a risk of isolating seniors during the pandemic, as this can cause their mental and emotional health to deteriorate.
While COVID-19 is still a threat, the lifting of the ban can help family members reconnect with seniors, who typically thrive on socializing with others. It can also help families note any possible signs of nursing home abuse or neglect and help older loved ones get care.
Is the Coronavirus Linked To Nursing Home Abuse?
Because of the isolation, vulnerable nursing home residents may have been abused or neglected during the outbreak and could still be in danger.
The coronavirus has been an incredibly stressful situation, putting extra pressure on staff members — which is a common cause of nursing home abuse or neglect.
In some cases, failure to stop coronavirus outbreaks or properly care for residents with the disease may be considered nursing home neglect. For example, two nursing home officials were charged after a COVID-19 outbreak at their facility left 76 dead.
When Will Nursing Homes Completely Reopen?
Nursing homes will probably not completely reopen until there is a proven vaccine or cure for COVID-19. However, there are some early steps being taken to protect nursing homes beyond the CMS reopening rules.
The hope is that with protocols like these in place, nursing homes will be able to reopen as soon as it is completely safe.
Visit Nursing Home Residents Safely After the Ban
If you are preparing to visit your loved one in a nursing home facility, you want to make sure that you do it safely.
Here are some tips to follow when visiting a nursing home:
- Don’t visit if you are sick: If you are sick, you could be putting your loved ones at risk if you visit. Only visit your loved ones if you are feeling well and have not tested positive for COVID-19.
- Follow coronavirus safety guidelines: Wearing masks, following social distancing, and washing your hands have proven to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
- Meet outside if possible: The coronavirus is less likely to spread in open areas, so meeting your loved one outside can reduce the risks.
- Check for any signs of nursing home abuse: It is important to check for any signs of nursing home abuse, such as malnourishment, bruises, or signs of mental or emotional distress. Report any suspected abuse to law enforcement immediately and move your loved one to another facility if possible.