Relaxed Guidelines for Nursing Home Visitation Give Relief to Many

While the past year has been one of isolation and uncertainty for all Americans, no group has felt the isolation more than those in long term care facilities. For more than a year now, long term care facilities have allowed almost no in-person visitation with residents. Unfortunately, the population of long-term care facilities are at high risk for infection being that the residents have co-morbidity factors which could result in a higher likelihood of death from COVID-19, and living quarters are close, which increases the likelihood that infection would spread. In fact, it is estimated that 40% of all COVID-19 deaths were residents of long-term care facilities. For all these reasons, it seems smart to limit contact with outside persons who may unknowingly be infected and spread the disease. However, the separation from family and friends has left an already vulnerable population feeling even more alone and isolated.

The emergency approval of vaccines in late 2020 gave many hopes of returning to normal and recently the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued updated guidelines urging states to relax the visitation policies for long term care facilities. On March 10, 2021, CMS, in collaboration with the Center for Disease Control, stated that long term care facilities should allow “responsible indoor visitation at all times and for all residents, regardless of vaccination status of the resident, or visitor, unless certain scenarios arise.”

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Allowing visitation again is a result of vaccination rates of both residents and health care workers as well as reduced cases reported daily in the United States. This news is welcomed by residents and visitors alike as many have spent the last year lonely and separated from family during what is already a stressful time. However, certain guidelines like social distancing and mask wearing remain in place and the requirement to distance may add additional complications for facilities since it is unlikely that in-room visitation will be allowed.

CMS and the CDC included the caveat that visitation can and should be limited if certain scenarios arise. Those include:

  • Unvaccinated residents of long-term care facilities where less than 70% of the residents are vaccinated and the community positivity rate exceeds 10%
    • Residents with a confirmed case of COVID-19
    • Residents who are required to quarantine based on other CDC quarantine requirements

CMS has also encouraged compassionate care visits regardless of vaccination status, community positivity rates, or other factors. Compassionate care visits include visitation at the end of a resident’s life or in other circumstances or times of extreme stress.

While we have not yet returned to normal, the recent CMS guidelines are evidence of moving toward normalcy and provide a great sense of relief for many families.

Ask The Attorney

Client: Do I need to change my will if I wish to give certain items to specific friends or family members?

Letha McDowell: No. A list of the tangible personal property you wish to give can be incorporated by reference into your will. For example, if you wish to leave your silverware collection to your daughter, you do not need to specifically change your will. You can prepare a separate memorandum referenced in your will that leaves your silverware, or any other tangible personal property, to your daughter. The memorandum must be dated and signed. If you later change your mind, you can destroy or change the memorandum without signing a whole new will.

Ask Dan: Pandemic Pets

Hook Law Center: Hey Dan, what is a pandemic pet and who gets one?

Dan: Pandemic pets are pets that were acquired after March 2020. Many people found as they were working from home and students were learning virtually, that they had time for a pet which they had not had before the pandemic. For many, a pandemic pet was a cure for isolation. While much of the country was shut down and people were shut in their homes by themselves, many people decided to get a pet. Those who felt isolated reported that having a pet helped reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety caused by isolation and even lessened the physical symptoms which are manifested because of loneliness and isolation. While much of the talk about pandemic pets has been about families who are at home more now than ever, it is estimated that 1 in 10 seniors have also gotten a pandemic pet. Perhaps the statistics are evidence that you are never too old to teach a human new tricks – including pet care.

Posted in Senior Law News