At last count, more than 172,000 have died, and 1.3 million residents and employees have been infected at 31,000 nursing home facilities across the United States, according to the New York Times. As much as the Coronavirus has decimated nursing home populations, another consequence of the virus is that families have been prevented from visiting facilities in lock-down. In March 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at nursing homes by severely restricting visitation from nursing home family members. As a consequence, a million elderly residents were deprived the comfort of being around loved ones. Six months ago, the AARP reported “social isolation” and “failure to thrive” was increasingly being listed as causes or contributing factors on death certificates in some long-term care facilities. Said one family member of her 99-year-old recently deceased mother, “She’s collateral damage of this COVID-19 seclusion, passing away because of a broken heart.”
Now that mass vaccinations at most nursing homes have occurred, the CMS recently updated its nursing home guidance to allow for indoor visits again. Under the updated guidance, CMS is prohibiting visits only involving unvaccinated residents:
· If the county COVID-19 positivity rate is above 10% and less than 70% of residents are fully vaccinated.
· If residents currently have COVID-19
· If residents are now in quarantine.
What are the new guidelines regarding visitation at nursing homes?
This updated guidance is finally a glimmer of hope in what has, up until now, been an almost hopeless situation. Dr. Lee Fleisher, CMS’s Chief Medical Officer, commented, “CMS recognizes the psychological, emotional and physical toll that prolonged isolation and separation from family have taken on nursing home residents, and their families.”
Millions of vaccine doses have now been administered to nursing home residents and staff, and the number of COVID cases in nursing homes has dropped significantly. Still, significant and lasting damage has been done. In November, the New York Times reported the many heartbreaking stories from seniors kept in near isolation inside care facilities. “Charlie no longer recognizes his wife of almost 50 years. In another nursing home, Susan’s toenails grew so long that she could not squeeze into her shoes. Ida lost 37 pounds and stopped speaking. Minnie cried and asked God to just take her.”
The good news is that visitation is less restricted, and seniors can get the care and attention they so urgently need and deserve. The Coronavirus epidemic is not yet behind us, but perhaps we have seen the worst. It is a great sign to see visitation at nursing homes beginning to resume again.
Attorney Wendy York of York Law Firm specializes in prosecuting elder abuse, nursing home abuse and wrongful death cases in California. For further information, please contact Wendy today.