Gov. Bill Lee and his health commissioner touted a plan last week to allow people to visit loved ones in long-term care facilities, but just how easy will that be to accomplish?
Lee and Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey during a press conference said visitation could resume Monday this week, with exceptions that Piercey called strict, but added “that’s OK” because the residents are vulnerable. She also acknowledged facilities would have a difficult time complying with the guidelines. The policy could change if virus cases rise in facilities.
The Murfreesboro Post emailed the Tennessee Department of Health to ask if Rutherford County would be allowed to provide visitation given that the case count continues to rise here, but the department pointed back at its guidelines. The TDH published a three-page detailed list of guidelines on its website. It recommends electronic communication continue to be the main way to stay in touch with the facility’s residents, but will in some cases allow visitation.
Linda Gibbs, whose mother, Grace Walker, is a resident at Northside Health Care and Rehabilitation Center in Murfreesboro, told the Post that the facility said she may not be able to visit her mother until July 1 because it needs time to follow the guidelines. Gibbs and her husband, Bill, have been visiting Walker from outside her room’s window since the facility locked down in early March.
Guests must be present to support residents with disabilities, provide critical assistance or religious exercise; they are seeing a resident receiving end-of-life care; and the visitor has proof of a negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction test result in the past 72 hours.
Participating facilities must have completed testing all residents and staff; must stay in compliance for weekly staff testing (nursing homes only); have not had a case in the past 28 days; the COVID-19 “burden” in the community is “stable,” or having an average of 10 new cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days; and other regulations apply.
If all those conditions are met, these rules apply: a visitor must make an appointment; there may be no more than two visitors per resident; staff trained in patient safety and infection control must remain with the resident at all times and enforce social distancing of more than 6 feet from visitor; visitor must wear a cloth mask and resident and staff must wear a surgical mask; visitor must be screened for symptoms and have a temperature check, and if any symptoms show, visitor will not be allowed entry.
The TDH said it prefers that visits happen outside, and even then, social distancing and mask rules apply. The use of “visitation booths” either outside or indoors are encouraged; these are acrylic sheet shields. Some in-room visits may be allowed.