On March 10th, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released new guidelines with revised visitation recommendations. This news has been a year in the making, as many older adults and families are eager to reunite. The latest guidance comes from CMS in collaboration with the CDC, as a result of more than three million doses of vaccines having been administered within LTC communities.
According to the updated guidance, facilities should allow responsible indoor visitation at all times and for all residents, regardless of vaccination status of the resident, or visitor, unless certain scenarios arise that would limit visitation for:
- Unvaccinated residents, if the COVID-19 county positivity rate is greater than 10 percent and less than 70 percent of residents in the facility are fully vaccinated;
- Residents with confirmed COVID-19 infection, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, until they have met the criteria to discontinue transmission-based precautions; or
- Residents in quarantine, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, until they have met criteria for release from quarantine.
Another addition to the new guidelines emphasizes that “compassionate care” should be allowed at all times, regardless of a resident’s vaccination status, the country’s COVID-19 positivity rate, or an outbreak. Compassionate care visits are defined by CMS as “a resident whose health has sharply declined or is experiencing a significant change in circumstances.”
Joanna LaFleur, Founder and CEO of Memory Lane Assisted Living has already begun to put the new guidelines into effect. She says, “We are thrilled to finally be able to allow our residents to see their loved ones again and welcome them back into our homes. Last Monday we opened it up to have 30min indoor visits 5 different times per day with a COVID vaccine or a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the visit. Only 1 family can come at a time so we can manage the visits. They have to double mask and use hand sanitizer and get a temperature and health screening when they enter. They are visiting in the residents’ rooms and they are allowed to hug them as well. This is the first time in a year that our families have been able to touch or hug. I feel like that’s incredibly important because of the power of touch. I can see the change on the residents faces after they receive a visit.”
Even with these new freedoms, CMS continues to urge senior living communities to follow the core guidelines of COVID-19 prevention control, such as wearing masks, physically distancing when possible, following disinfection protocols, etc. High vaccination rates within the communities, as well as diligence from staff members, has helped to significantly lower the risk of transition across LTC communities.
“CMS recognizes the psychological, emotional and physical toll that prolonged isolation and separation from family have taken on nursing home residents, and their families,” said Dr. Lee Fleisher, MD, CMS Chief Medical Officer and Director of CMS’ Center for Clinical Standards and Quality. “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.”
While it is not required, CMS encourages to offer testing to visitors if it is plausible, or instead encourage visitors to get tested on their own. They also encourage visitors to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them, but it will not be mandated to show proof of a vaccine to enter or visit a community.