On Feb. 24, 2021, Tennessee Department of Health announced that, beginning March 1, state-specific visitation restrictions for long-term care facilities will no longer be in effect. Officials said that facilities, which include nursing homes, assisted living housing, and other in-patient facilities, should use the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services guidance for safe operation and visitation, but that limited visitation restrictions would no longer be in place at the state level, rather at the organizational and community levels.
Tennessee Department of Health also announced that as of Feb. 24, as a result of the federal long-term care facility pharmacy partnership, 100 percent of Tennessee’s nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities have completed both doses of COVID-19 vaccinations with the state’s assisted care living facilities and residential homes for the aged projected to be completed before March 1.
“The health and safety of vulnerable Tennesseans, especially our long-term care residents, remains our top priority, and our comprehensive and persistent efforts to protect this population from COVID-19 have saved lives,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, MD, MBA, FAAP. “Now that vaccinations at all long-term care facilities are nearing completion, we are ready to transition to a more sustainable approach of following these best practices for safe operation of long-term care facilities in Tennessee.”
w“It is important, especially for families, to realize that this is not removing all visitation restrictions and allowing us to go back to normal. It is simply pointing us to CMS guidelines instead of TDH,” Jennifer Solomon, Eastern Division Vice President of Life Care Centers of America, of which the Sparta facility is a part, said.
CMS guidelines are congruent with those set forth by the Centers for Disease Control whose guidance has nursing facilities considering COVID-19 cases within their building and the community before allowing indoor visitation.
According to the guidelines, nursing facilities may allow indoor visitation when there has been no new onset of COVID-19 cases for either residents or employees in the previous 14 days and provided that the facility is not currently conducting outbreak testing.
“The positivity rate in the community is also considered,” Solomon said. “Life Care’s Tennessee facilities have been working closely with their local departments of health to determine when the facilities can safely resume indoor visitation.”
Brennan Pearson, administrator at Sparta’s NHC Healthcare in-patient facility, echoed Solomon’s comments about needing to follow the CMS and CDC guidelines, but added that, while eager to bring patient’s families back into the facility, challenges remain in determining both the safest and most manageable way to bring visitors inside.
“The open-door policy that we had prior to COVID won’t be in existence,” Pearson said, explaining that visitation will need to be a planned thing with visitors making appointments. “By doing this, we can ensure and move to the next step and the next.”
Pearson said there is a lot of planning that will go into the best way to allow patient family members back into the facility as they determine which is the fairest plan.
“We have families that work during the time, others that are coming in from out of town, or those that can only visit on a weekend,” he explained. “We are working to determine how we can maximize what we have and how can best make [visitations] flow as smoothly and seamlessly as possible.”
Both Solomon and Pearson reiterated that safety measures will include things like mask wearing, social distancing, and temperature checks.
“This is a big step in the right direction in getting a sense of normalcy. We want to see our families back in here,” Pearson said. “We rely on them for so much in regard to the care for their loved ones. You can’t imagine what it is like to not be able to sit and talk or hug your loved ones. But safety is our biggest priority. The safety of our patients and our partners is our highest priority.”
“We know indoor visitation is important to our residents and families and we are working hard to get to the place where we can resume such visitation,” Solomon said about Life Care’s eagerness to reopen their doors to the families of their residents. “In the meantime, we encourage family involvement and are always happy to coordinate phone calls, video chats, and/or window visits. We are staying in communication with the families of our residents, and we always welcome their questions and contact.”
With community cases of COVID-19 still a factor listed by the CMS and CDC as to whether a facility in any given city can be opened safely for visitors, Solomon encouraged community members to keep focusing on stopping the spread of COVID-19.
“We are encouraged by the increasing number of Tennesseans who have taken the COVID-19 vaccine, and by the decreasing numbers of new positive cases throughout the state,” Solomon said. “We continue to encourage our community members to join our associates and residents in doing their part to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by continuing to practice social distancing, mask wearing and proper hand hygiene.”