AUSTIN (KXAN) — After months of isolation, advocates and families of nursing home residents are asking, “When can I see my loved one?”
After COVID-19 began to spread in vulnerable long-term care facilities across the state back in mid-March, Texas Health and Human Services officials restricted access to these homes for non-essential visitors, including family members.
“We are reaching a kind of boiling point,” the state’s Long Term Care Ombudsman Patty Ducayet said. “Family members feel it has been too long, and I agree that residents are too isolated at this point.”
“We know that the state is working on a plan right now to allow some form of face-to-face visits.”ALEXA SCHOEMAN, TEXAS DEPUTY LONG-TERM CARE OMBUDSMAN
In mid-May, the federal government released guidelines for reopening long-term care facilities. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services outline the criteria that different facilities or states would need to meet in order to safely reopen, including:
- Case status in community: a decline in the number of new cases, hospitalizations or deaths
- Case status in the facility: absence of any new COVID-19 cases in the home
- Adequate staffing
- Access to adequate testing
- Requiring residents and visitors wear a cloth face covering and maintain social distancing
- Access to adequate personal protective equipment for staff
- Local hospital capacity
The guidance also allows for states to implement these recommendations state-wide, regionally, or on a case-by-case basis with individual facilities.
Massachusetts became the first state to resume “socially distanced” visits for nursing home residents at the beginning of June.
Now, states like Oklahoma and Missouri have announced a “phased” approach to reopening nursing facilities. In Oklahoma, an executive order from their governor laid out three phases of reopening — with the first phase allowing visitors for residents who are near end-of-life or have psychological needs.
In a Facebook video update on Wednesday, the Deputy State Long-term Care Ombudsman Alexa Schoeman said it is advocating for Texas to find a safe way to reopen homes.
“We know that the state is working on a plan right now to allow some form of face-to-face visits,” she said. “We understand many of you have been waiting 100-plus days to see your loved ones, and that is causing anxiety, stress and trauma.”
Schoeman said the Office of the Long-term Care Ombudsman would update families and residents as soon as they knew more about the state’s plan.
As of Wednesday, the state reported 4,900 confirmed coronavirus cases among nursing home residents, and 546 assisted living facility residents.