Families, Providers Prepare for New Visitation Options at Long-Term Care Facilities

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Effective Thursday, in-person visits at long-term care facilities can resume with some restrictions, according to the Texas Health and Humans Services Commission.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced the change last week as part of the state’s reopening plan.

According to the HHSC, residents or their legal representative can pick up to two “essential family caregivers” who may visit in-person.

The family caregivers must wear personal protective equipment and test negative for COVID-19 within 14 days of the first visit.

Only one caregiver is allowed to visit at one time and must undergo training on the proper use of PPE and infection control measures.

Facilities can allow visits if there are active cases of COVID-19, but have separate areas for residents with confirmed or unknown COVID-19 status.

Reopening for facilities is optional and facilities that don’t have the resources won’t be required to allow family caregiver visits.

The state has published an overview of the guidelines for providers. Specific rules will be released on Thursday, according to the HHSC.

“We’re focused on working on the actual policy and procedures and then once those regulations get released, we’re already going to have those nuts and bolts together,” said Justin Stevens, regional director of operations for Sage Oak which provides assisted living and memory care.

Stevens said Sage Oak was preparing training materials for designated family caregivers to prepare for in-person visits for its residents.

“We had been able to really do a great job keeping them safe from COVID-19, but not being able to keep them safe from the heartbreak that goes with not seeing your loved one for six months,” Stevens said.

One of Sage Oak’s residents is 90-year-old Valerie Ericson, a memory care patient.

Early the pandemic, Rick Ericson said family visits were limited to conversations at the window. Later, Ericson could visit his mom outdoors while wearing PPE and sitting across an 8-foot-long table.

“It was difficult because mom would sit there looking through the glass and say, 'Come on in,' and, 'Why can’t you come in and visit? Why won’t you come in and sit next to me?'" Ericson said.

Ericson said he’s encouraged by the announced new guidelines.

“I was glad we were able to take that step,” he said.

Though some worry easing restrictions could lead to another surge in COVID-19 cases in vulnerable populations, Mary Nichols said she believes the family caregiver designation helps navigate the risk.

“Nobody has a greater reason to be safe, to be tested, to socially distance, to wear our masks and to stay safe and healthy at home than a family member,” Nichols said.

Nichols petitioned the state to allow for limited, in-person visits with a designated caregiver. She said she welcomed last Thursday’s announcement.

“It was a huge relief, it was incredibly overwhelming,” Nichols said.

Her mother, Martha, is also living with dementia.

Nichols said Sunday marked 192 days since she’s been able to hug her mom.

“I lost what little cognition my mom had left and I really don’t want other people to lose that. I can’t get that back for my mom,” Nichols said.

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