By Debra King, LCSW
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that provides federal oversight to nursing homes, relaxed restrictions imposed on visitation as a result of the COVID pandemic. These changes were announced at the end of March.
Does this mean things are back to normal?
Well, sort of.
CMS is telling nursing homes that they can be open to visitors, but they have the right to impose more restrictive rules if circumstances warrant. If there’s another wave of infections or a new variant comes along, nursing home administrators have the right to lock their facilities down. However, that’s not the preferred course of action, and you can guess why. We all know what happened when visitation was restricted during the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021. The lack of contact with loved ones (not to mention all the staffing issues) created real problems for residents. Some even died due to the lack of loving contact with relatives.
Ultimately, these new guidelines are an attempt to strike a balance between infection control, public safety, and residents’ right to have contact with their families.
Here’s what I’m seeing.
First, you can’t say no to the COVID vaccine if you want to live in a nursing home. I’m working with a number of clients who are in the process of being admitted to nursing homes. Most of these facilities are requiring prospective residents to be vaccinated through at least the first booster shot in order to be admitted into a facility.
Second, facilities can still require masks and social distancing, especially in community areas.
Third, there will be fewer restrictions on physical contact between residents and visitors, at least for now. During COVID, nursing home staff members were forced to monitor visits to make sure the resident did not touch the visitor or vice versa. One client told me, “We were sitting six feet apart on a table with a plastic screen between us. We were masked and gloved and gowned, and there was a staff member monitoring to make sure I didn’t get up and hug my mother.” Fortunately, that’s over. The new guidelines says that facility staff cannot monitor touch between residents and visitors until there’s a real reason why. Also, in private rooms, families can interact with residents without wearing masks, if they wish.
Of course, if there’s another outbreak of COVID or another infectious disease, all this could change. CMS could decide to shut everything down again. Hopefully, that won’t be the case.
Read the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services FAQ document here: https://www.cms.gov/files/document/nursing-home-visitation-faq-1223.pdf