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State relaxing visitation restrictions for long term care facilities

Cases and deaths declining in nursing homes
Nursing Home
Posted at 4:51 PM, Mar 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-10 18:06:51-05

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana State Department of Health announced Wednesday it is relaxing visitation restrictions on Indiana nursing homes.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box acknowledged many nursing home residents have struggled with isolation, and said the new guidance allows residents more flexibility to leave facilities.

The guidelines issued to all Indiana long-term care facilities say if a resident is making a trip that lasts less than 24 hours, they no longer have to quarantine upon their return.

Also, facilities must allow indoor visitation if the county has a positivity rate of 10% or lower and has had no new COVID-19 cases in the facility in the last 14 days

“We also increased the amount of time they should allow for visitation from four hours to eight hours during the week and some hours on the weekend,” Box said. “As we continue to get more vaccine in arms, my hope is we are able to further open these facilities and families can be reunited and spend precious time with their loved ones."

In December 2020, there were 5,305 cases in long-term care facilities.

That number dropped to 665 in February 2021 and was just 2% of cases statewide, Box said.

Long-term care facilities reported 1,447 deaths in December, or 48% of the state’s total.

That number dropped to 227 resident deaths in February 2021 or 33% of the state’s total COVID-19 deaths that month.

Box said they will investigate complaints if facilities are not following the visitation guidelines.

  • Email the complaint to the ISDH at complaints@isdh.in.gov.
  • Fax the complaint to the ISDH at 317-233-7494. An individual may fax the completed Complaint report form or fax a description of the issue.
  • Call the ISDH toll-free complaint report line at 1-800-246-8909 or the complaint report line voicemail at 317-233-7241.

The Indiana Health Care Association released the following statement to WRTV in response to the new guidelines:

The Indiana Health Care Association is very supportive of the updated visitation guidelines issued by the Indiana Department of Health on March 1, 2021 for Indiana’s long-term care facilities. We are encouraged with the expanded visitation hours and additional excursion related flexibilities that will allow our residents to reconnect with their families in meaningful ways. We know our residents and their families truly appreciate this provision. Even with these new flexibilities, there are still restrictions on certain aspects of visitation and social interaction. We are hopeful that in the coming weeks, the federal and state governments will further ease current restrictions and offer additional flexibilities for our residents to safely connect with more friends and family.

AARP Indiana’s State Director Sarah Waddle released the following statement:

We are grateful that the State is taking additional steps to address the social isolation that has occurred in long-term care facilities over the duration of the pandemic due to visitation restrictions. The issuance of new visitation guidance for facilities that was just announced is definitely a step in the right direction.

Ensuring families and friends can visit their loved ones in nursing homes is a top priority for AARP, and AARP is advocating for visitation for all to resume as soon as possible, which means that it must be safe. Current federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) guidance prohibits visitation until county positivity rates fall to 10% or under (county positivity rates do not need to be considered for outdoor visitation), there has been no new onset of COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days in the facility, and the facility is not currently conducting outbreak testing. Nursing homes need to be doing everything necessary to get their infection rates under control so that in-person, indoor visitation can safely resume for all visitors of a resident’s choosing. We are asking the State to ensure that facilities are meeting these requirements, as well as the newly issued ones. We continue to support outdoor visitation when safe and feasible, facilitated and regular opportunities for virtual visitation, and compassionate care visits, broadly construed.

As an FYI, on February 23, 2021, AARP sent a letter to CMS urging it to update guidance, criteria and support for safe in-person visitation in nursing homes. The most important issue is ensuring that visitation be done in a manner that is as safe as possible, not only for the person being visited, but for all other residents of the facility. You can read it here.