After 12 months since the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in the United States, nursing home residents and families received heartwarming news this week from federal officials.
Thanks to over 3.7 million vaccine doses administered to nursing home residents and staff, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced guidance to expand visitation options in response to the significant reductions in COVID-19 infections.
According to Dr. Lee Fleisher, MD, CMS Chief Medical Officer and Medical Director of CMS' Center for Clinical Standards and Quality, "CMS recognizes the psychological, emotional and physical toll that prolonged isolation and separation from family have taken on nursing home residents and their families."
CMS outlined visitation guidance for indoor visitation beginning March 10th, 2021. Facilities should allow responsible indoor visitation at all times and for all residents, regardless of the vaccination status of the resident or visitor, unless certain scenarios arise that would limit visitation for:
- Unvaccinated residents 1) the COVID-19 county positivity rate is greater than10 percent, and 2) less than 70 percent of the residents in the facility are fully vaccinated;
- Residents with confirmed COVID-19infection, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated until they have met the criteria to discontinue transmission-based precautions; or
- Residents in quarantine, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated until they have met the criteria for release from quarantine.
Early on in the pandemic, American Senior Alliance wrote on several occasions about the challenging isolation experience our older Americans were facing in long-term care facilitates and communities. It was hard on vulnerable senior citizens knowing they may never see a family member again. The rigid safety rules were required for the safety of residents, staff, and families.
Even though COVID-19 took a toll on the mental and physical well-being of residents, not being able to hug the neck of a parent or grandparent was even harder for some. Eye contact, a warm smile, and a hug are more precious than rubies. Studies show hugging can help protect against illness, lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
We are grateful the federal and state officials heard our pleas urging for more social contact and interactions that older Americans desperately need. Reopening our nursing homes and communities is vital, although it is crucial to keep in mind what Branden Farmer, Executive Director of the Alabama Nursing Home Association said when states began opening up in September 2020, "While reopening is critically important, our top priority remains the health and safety of our residents and staff." Those powerful words by those who care for our seniors give us comfort knowing our older Americans are in good hands and the future is bright.