ST. LOUIS, MO (KMOX) - After six months in lockdown, the federal government is now requiring many nursing homes to open their doors to visitors.
Elderly and fragile populations have been hit especially hard by COVID-19. In Missouri alone, federal data shows more than 800 long-term care residents have lost their lives to the pandemic.
Advocates for nursing home residents have seen isolation take its toll on both the mental and physical well-being of this population.
"If you can imagine being locked in a room the size of your bedroom, maybe with a roommate, maybe without a roommate, with really only contact with staff that's helping you periodically, and really the only time you're getting to leave is maybe to take a shower every couple of days, that can be incredibly stressful," says Marjorie Moore, Executive Director of VOYCE.
Under the new requirements, skilled nursing facilities that receive funds from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid must allow visitors, unless they have had recent cases in the facility or the local COVID numbers rise above certain thresholds. A memorandum released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and CMS on September 17, 2020 states:
"Facilities should accommodate and support indoor visitation, including visits for reasons beyond compassionate care situations, based on the following guidelines:
a) There has been no new onset of COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days and the facility is not currently conducting outbreak testing;
b) Visitors should be able to adhere to the core principles and staff should provide monitoring for those who may have difficulty adhering to core principles, such as children;
c) Facilities should limit the number of visitors per resident at one time and limit the total number of visitors in the facility at one time (based on the size of the building and physical space). Facilities should consider scheduling visits for a specified length of time to help ensure all residents are able to receive visitors; and
d) Facilities should limit movement in the facility. For example, visitors should not walk around different halls of the facility. Rather, they should go directly to the resident’s room or designated visitation area. Visits for residents who share a room should not be conducted in the resident’s room.
Moore recommends one family member be the point of contact with the nursing care facility, "who is going to contact the facility, who is going to help arrange this because if every resident has 12 different family members trying to get in to visit all at once, it's going to be a mess and it's going to be really hard for the facilities to manage."
Moore adds that outdoor visits are still preferred, when possible.