Nursing home residents will once again be able to host loved ones in their own indoor living spaces after a half year of only being able to meet outdoors, if at all.
“Making the decision to limit in-person visits at nursing homes is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do as governor, but amid the outbreak of this pandemic that is impacting the lives of so many people in our senior population, I knew it was the right thing to do,” Gov. Ned Lamont said in a statement announcing the change. “Each facility is strongly urged to develop a visitation plan and strictly adhere to it to the greatest extent possible so that we can keep this virus from spreading and impacting our most vulnerable patients.”
Acting Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford issued the order on Monday, rescinding the state’s previous orders that restricted visitation. In-person visits were prohibited on March 13 and outdoor visits were allowed on June 12.
The shift was made following a directive from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which requires nursing homes to create a plan for in-person indoor visitation. Facilities can restrict visitation due to the county's positive test rate, a resident's COVID-19 status, lack of adherence to infection control practices or other factors related to the epidemic.
“With this new guidance from the federal government, indoor visitation is now allowed in nursing homes under specific conditions,” Gifford said in the statement announcing the change. “I urge nursing homes to work closely with family members to arrange for the type of visitation that is most appropriate for each resident’s physical, mental and psychosocial well-being.”
David Skoczulek, vice president of business development for iCare Health Network, said network officials have been planning to resume indoor visitation for some time and plan to begin implementing it “very soon.” The network operates a dozen nursing homes across the state, including Silver Springs Care Center in Meriden.
“Each care center will have a specific plan based on staffing, floor plan, facility size and other factors,” he said. “Residents and families have been very patient and understanding that visitors restrictions have all been done for their safety and protection but they are certainly excited and will benefit from visits with family and loved ones.”
Silver Springs has not had any cases of the virus for over 14 days, meaning it can begin indoor meetings once its visitation plan is complete.
“Things could certainly change quickly and our vigilance will not decrease any time soon, but I would say we have a strong grasp on testing, co-horting, PPE use, admissions and all of the controls that go into preventing community spread in the nursing home,” Skoczulek said.Masonicare
Patricia King, vice president of healthcare services and continuum integration for Masonicare in Wallingford, said the announcement was welcome news for residents.
“We are working now to ensure it will be done safely and with the well-being of residents, their families and our staff foremost in mind,” she said in an emailed statement. “Since this pandemic began in March, we have taken great care to work in close partnership with DPH to protect the health of all patients and residents in our care, and as a result we have had very few reported COVID-19 cases over the past six months
“We will be communicating with family members immediately on new safety procedures that will be in place when we welcome them back to visit their loved ones in person,” she added.
While visitors have been permitted in outdoors spaces around nursing homes, some residents with limited mobility have been unable to take advantage of those opportunities, said Nicholas Nicholson, a professor of nursing at Quinnipiac University who researches social isolation in senior citizens. He added that with winter looming, many residents have been dreading colder weather putting an end to their visits.
Being able to bring loved ones into the living spaces where they’re most comfortable also creates a deeper connection and sense of normalcy.
“They're going to be more relaxed, less anxious,” Nicholson said. “I think that’s going to help a lot as far as their mental health goes.”
Research has shown isolation leads to a variety of negative health outcomes, including loss of cognitive function, depression, higher risk for substance abuse, decreased sleep quality, higher mortality risk and increased hospitalization rates.
“... by not allowing social connections you’re really inhibiting their recovery quite substantially,” he said.
Connecticut State Long Term Care Ombudsman Mairead Painter said the relaxing of restrictions is a good step, but she’s looking forward to when residents can have their full visitation rights restored. Under the new roles, visits still need to be scheduled in advance and can have time limits.
“They’ve worked very hard to find a balance between residents’ rights and infection control measures,” Painter said of the public health officials creating the guidelines. “ … They understand that some of these precautions have had an impact and I don’t think they’ve taken any of them lightly.”
Allowing indoor visitors will also improve her team’s ability to meet with residents and their families to field complaints. Some residents feel uncomfortable discussing issues over the phone and it’s difficult to maintain privacy during an outdoor visit.