Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility State health agency relaxes COVID-19 policies for nursing homes | #hospice | #elderly | #seniors – Active Lifestyle Media

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Hospice NewsState health agency relaxes COVID-19 policies for nursing homes | #hospice | #elderly | #seniors

State health agency relaxes COVID-19 policies for nursing homes | #hospice | #elderly | #seniors

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Residents of long-term care or nursing facilities across Texas that are fully vaccinated can now receive “close, in-person” visits with family and friends under new state guidelines.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission formed the new policies after the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collectively changed their recommendations for seniors in care facilities.

Under the new recommendations announced Tuesday, fully vaccinated nursing facility residents would be able to have more visitation opportunities as long as proper safeguards are in place.

“Safely visiting with family and friends is vital to the mental health and well-being of long-term care residents,” Victoria Ford, HHS chief policy and regulatory officer, said in a statement. “We are so pleased these new rules will allow residents to enjoy in-person visits with a wider circle of loved ones.”

Masks are still suggested and required in most long-term care facilities, but nursing homes are no longer required to request visitation approval from the HHSC, monitor and escort visitors, separate guests with a barrier during visitation indoors or require proof of negative COVID-19 tests from caregivers.

Care facilities can now also allow outdoor visitation at all times, even when a facility has an outbreak, and can have up to two essential caregivers at the same time visit a resident with any COVID-19 status.

Nursing homes can reinstate all visitation events without time limits, including end-of-life visits for all residents regardless of their COVID-19 status.

The directives have lifted certain requirements for facilities, but it’s ultimately up to facilities to adjust their policies and respond to the needs of residents.

Buckner Retirement Services, which operates Calder Woods and other communities across the state with nursing services, released its updated visitation requirements on Wednesday.

“The HHSC announcement coincides with news that all adult Texans will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine beginning Monday … something we strongly recommend for all guests prior to visiting a Buckner senior living community,” Vice President Brian Robbins wrote in a statement.

The HHSC has also expanded similar policies to assisted living facilities, intermediate care facilities and services like home health. The new rules also remove certain administrative requirements for providers, such as the rules to have staff monitor certain visits and escort visitors to and from a visiting area.

Federal and state policy changes have hinged on the proliferation of vaccines throughout the country since the end of 2020, with experts suggesting that there is enough protection to reasonably restore a much-needed resource for seniors.

About 20% of all coronavirus deaths in Texas so far have been identified as residents of nursing homes, amounting to a death toll of about 9,000 seniors so far, according to state data.

Other residents have been suffering through months with little interaction, seeing their designated caretakers at limited times and celebrating holidays or birthdays through glass or video calls.

The toll isolation and loneliness can have on health, especially for vulnerable populations, has helped tip the scale for opening facilities, according to health experts.

“CMS recognizes the psychological, emotional and physical toll that prolonged isolation and separation from family have taken on nursing home residents, and their families,” Dr. Lee Fleisher, director of CMS’ Center for Clinical Standards and Quality, said in a statement after the agency’s announcement. “That is why, now that millions of vaccines have been administered to nursing home residents and staff, and the number of COVID cases in nursing homes has dropped significantly, CMS is updating its visitation guidance to bring more families together safely. This is an important step that we are taking, as we continue to emphasize the importance of maintaining infection prevention practices, given the continued risk of transmission of COVID-19.”

The news drew cheers from state and national advocates of seniors and care facility residents, who have been advocating for extended visitation rights during the pandemic and into the Texas legislative session.

Amanda Fredrickson, associate state director of outreach and advocacy with AARP Texas, said the ability for nursing home residents to see who they want, when they want is a sacred right that had been curtailed under the extraordinary conditions of the pandemic.

Now that regulatory officials agree that risk has been reduced, she said, those rights have to be restored and protected.

“Like so many things that impacted day to day life during the pandemic, there needs to be a reset,” she said. “We need to be sure — the state needs to be sure — facilities are doing what they need to do to make sure residents’ rights are protected.”

The pandemic’s impacts on Texas nursing home residents have inspired regulatory changes and a bevy of new bills by lawmakers.

HHSC also announced Tuesday that it would roll out an expanded definition of end-of-life visits that includes all residents receiving hospice services, all residents of a facility at or near the end of life and residents whose prognosis does not indicate recovery.

The change echoes similar policies that AARP has suggested to broaden the definition of a caretaker, often the only person that can see a nursing home resident during situations like a quarantine.

Advocates have said the current terminology often leaves out the elderly spouses and loved ones of residents who sometimes are physically incapable of taking care of all of the needs of a resident, but are often a critical social lifeline.

Fredrickson said the experiences of last year will likely inspire more changes to come in hopes of better protecting and serving the state’s aging population.

“We have had these kinds of problems long before the pandemic, but COVID placed a spotlight on them that can’t be ignored,” she said.

A full list of policy changes and directives is available at the HHSC website, hhs.texas.gov.

jacob.dick@beaumontenterprise.com

twitter.com/jd_journalism



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