Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced Tuesday it's expanding visitations at nursing facilities and other long-term care facilities.
Residents who are fully vaccinated at nursing facilities can now have visitors, other than an essential caregiver.
The new rules are effective immediately.
"I was so relieved because not only will I be allowed in, but my family, she has five kids," said Gail O'Connor about her 93-year-old mother, Augusta Cook "To be able to be together again in the room with her, it’s just going to be so wonderful. We’ve waited so long for this, and we’re all excited just to be with her again."
Her mother lives at a nursing home in Burleson. Cook, who lost her sight over the last several years, used to live with her daughter, but after having mini strokes has lived in a nursing home for the past year-and-a-half.
O'Connor and her brother would visit their mother every day, but that stopped last March due to the pandemic.
“It was so difficult because we were used to being with her daily and touching her and hugging her," explained O'Connor. “During the pandemic, there were times I could tell she was very depressed, she was very lonely."
They've only seen her from a distance twice in the past year, during a drive-by Mother's Day Celebration and special request for a socially distanced visit outside.
They used Facetime once a week, but that was challenging since Cook is blind. Phone calls were their saving grace.
"She just sat there waiting for our phone calls basically and It was so sad to picture her sitting in the room because she’s unable to walk without someone to guide her walker," said O'Connor.
News of the updated guidelines from the state will hopefully eliminate the isolation and emptiness many seniors have felt in the last 12 months.
The state is following federal guidance that was provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on March 10.
HHSC said in a statement that in-person visits with family members and friends are now allowed if the resident at a nursing facility is fully vaccinated and as long as COVID-19 safety measures are followed.
For the last several months only a designated essential caregiver was allowed to visit, and even then there were time limitations.
“Safely visiting with family and friends is vital to the mental health and well-being of long-term care residents,” said Victoria Ford, HHS chief policy and regulatory officer in a statement. “We are so pleased these new rules will allow residents to enjoy in-person visits with a wider circle of loved ones.”
This means people are now allowed close contact, outdoor visitations even if there's a coronavirus case at a facility.
"These new rules add visitation options and allow for a more kind of natural visit where a resident who is fully vaccinated can choose to have touch with their visitors whether they're visiting indoors or outdoors, and that means for the first time in more than a year, some of these family members are going to be able to hug their loved ones, and that is huge," said Suzanna Sulfstede, director of the long-term care ombudsman program at The Senior Source.
An ombudsman is someone who advocates for people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. They make sure their rights are protected and resolve complaints on their behalf.
Even though the new guidelines, facilities like O'Connor's mother, are still getting familiar with the new expanded visitation rules.
"We know that it does take facilities some time to digest the information and to start making some of the changes, so we know always to encourage families who encounter difficulties with a facility that maybe isn't following the newest rule we encourage them to start with the person in charge there," explained Sulfstede.
If not, reach out to an ombudsman, 1-800-252-2412. It's a free and confidential service to help resolve the issue.
Before, only one of the two essential caregivers designated to a resident could visit at a time, but now, both caregivers can visit at the same time.
“Right now they have to escort me to and from her room, I wont have to be escorted anymore which frees them up, they’re very busy," said O'Connor, who is an essential caregiver for her mother.
She said she was finally allowed in last Monday as an essential caregiver and was able to feed her mother lunch.
“Oh, to go and see her in person and she knew my voice immediately and said, ‘It’s Gail!’ and I said, 'I’m here mom!' And we almost cried, it was so emotional," expressed O'Connor.
She's most excited there's no longer a time limit for how long she can see her mom.
“I was so concerned this past year, she might pass away and I might not have the chance to hug her one more time, I'm grateful she’s survived the year, there's so many who didn't," said O'Connor.
Here is the full list, per the state, of what is now allowed at Texas nursing facilities:
- Close/personal contact during any visitation for fully vaccinated residents.
- Outdoor visitation at all facilities, even when the facility has an outbreak.
- Up to two essential caregivers at the same time to visit a resident with any COVID-19 status.
- All visitation without time limits, while adhering to infection prevention and control measures.
- End-of-life visits for all residents regardless of their COVID-19 status in all nursing facilities, with an expanded definition of end-of-life visits that now includes all residents receiving hospice services; residents at or near the end of life, with or without hospice services; and residents whose prognosis does not indicate recovery.
Before, people had to request approval for a visitation from HHSC, but that is no longer the case. The state also said nursing facilities no longer have to monitor visits or escort visitors to and from the visitation area.
Here is a list of what is no longer needed at Texas nursing facilities, according to HHSC:
- Request general visitation approval from HHSC.
- Monitor visits or escort visitors to and from the visitation area.
- Limit indoor visitation to areas with a plexiglass barrier or booth.
- Require documentation of a negative COVID-19 test result for essential caregiver or salon services visitors.
In regards to assisted living facilities, intermediate care facilities, and home and community-based services providers, new rules for those entities have not come out yet, but are possibly expected in the next two weeks.
Current rules for assisted living facilities and others can be found here
Want to Get on a Vaccine Waitlist?
County health departments have launched waitlists for adults 16 years old and over.
You can register to recieve the vaccination in Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties. Links are below:
You do not need to be a resident of the county to register for a COVID-19 vaccine in that county -- registration is open to anyone in Texas. For those without internet access, Tarrant County is also taking registrations by phone at 817-248-6299. In Dallas County, call the DCHHS vaccine hotline at 1-855-IMMUNE9 (1-855-466-8639). In Denton County, call 940-349-2585.
For a more detailed breakdown of who is included in each priority group in Texas, see this page from the Texas DSHS.