Nursing Home Visitation Policies Tighten
With omicron surging, some states have reimposed stricter nursing home visitation policies to better protect the residents in these communities.
Rhode Island, California and New York are among the states to do so.
Governor Dan McKee and the Rhode Island Department of Health announced new regulations this week that require visitors at nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the state to either be vaccinated or provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test to enter.
The new policy went into effect Monday.
“In addition to rapidly increasing our testing and vaccination capacity, our administration is taking another crucial step to protect our most vulnerable residents while we address the recent surge in COVID-19 cases,” said Governor McKee in the news release.
All visitors must now be masked as well, the governor’s measure said.
“If you have a loved one in a nursing home or assisted living facility, the best way to visit safely with that person is to get vaccinated. However, to ensure that residents can still see their loved ones, testing is also an option,” Nicole Alexander Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, said in the release.
If a visitor opts to show proof of a negative test, they must either have a negative antigen (rapid) test result from within the previous 48 hours or a negative PCR test result from within the previous 72 hours.
California tightened up its nursing home visitation policies even further.
After seeing its seven-day average case rate increase by 410% and the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients increase by 63% in late 2021, the state elected to make boosters mandatory for nursing home staff and to require additional testing of visitors eligible for boosters who are not yet boosted.
Following California’s lead, New York became one of five states to require the booster for nursing home staff last week and in the new guidance issued by Governor Kathy Hochul, new rules regarding nursing home visitations were made.
All nursing home visitors now must wear “surgical”-type masks and must test negative for COVID-19 within 24 hours of their visit, the state announced.
Though California’s visitation changes differ slightly from New York’s, both health departments determined that stricter facility-directed measures were necessary to protect nursing homes’ particularly vulnerable population.
Recent outbreaks in skilled nursing facilities, traced to unvaccinated staff members, demonstrate the risk unvaccinated individuals present to these settings, the California Department of Public Health determined.
As such, the state issued that intermediate care facilities and adult and senior care residential facilities must either 1) verify that visitors are vaccinated and provide a negative COVID test within one day of visitation, or 2) permit only outdoor visitation for those who do not meet all the requirements.
Outdoor visitors must provide evidence of a negative COVID test within one day of visitation.
Nursing home visitation policies have been in flux since the pandemic began. Residents and their families have pushed to loosen some of the visitation restrictions enacted, while health officials have pursued a more cautious approach for the at-risk populations that reside in these communities.
Guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released in November finally allowed visits at all times for all residents as the sector was moving towards pre-pandemic visitation policies prior to the omicron wave.
CMS issued clarification to this guidance prior to the end of the year as omicron surged and reiterated that residents must allow visitors at all times “with very limited and rare exceptions.”
The agency urged government officials to provide flexibility in limiting visitation due to COVID-19.
In an email newsletter, the Center for Medicare Advocacy expressed concern that SNFs would exploit the new guidance to expand the exceptions to bar or limit visitors.
While it remains to be seen which other states alter nursing home visitation policies moving forward, some nursing home operators may err on the side of caution when it comes to who they allow into their facilities.
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