Families Say They're Concerned Over Guidelines for Limited Visits at Nursing Homes and Long Term Care Facilities

The state said it will allow limited visitations to loved ones, but before that happens, there have to be no positive cases among residents and staff at a facility

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Texas Health and Human Services announced it will allow limited visitation at nursing homes and long term care facilities, but there's no physical contact allowed and a facility has to be COVID-19 free for at least 14 days.

"It is a baby step, it will help some people, but I don't believe it's going to help nearly as many as the general public thinks based on the headlines we've seen. Because you really have to look at the requirements to see how limited they really are," said Mary Nichols creator of the Facebook page called  Texas Caregivers for Compromise - Because Isolation Kills, Too.

They are urging Texas Health and Human Services to allow one family member to be the designated essential caregiver and give them access to long term care facilities and nursing homes.

“I spend a lot of time with him, I’m not just a visitor, I am an essential part of his life," said Stephanie Kirby whose 28-year-old son, Petre, lives at the Denton State Supported Living Center.

He is non-verbal, functions at the level of a three-year-old, and has a history of self-injury.

Before Kirby adopted him, Petre suffered years of abuse. He was placed in a loving home and lived with Kirby since he was a young boy, but recently she needed extra help to take care of her son.

He's been a resident at the Denton Support State Learning Center for three years.

It's been 150 days since she last saw her son in person at the facility due to the pandemic.

“I truly had nightmares waking up that Petre, what if he thinks he truly did something wrong, and that’s why mom never came back," Kirby said.

Now she's limited to dropping off a box at the front gate with food and some of his favorite items, which include multicolored strings and toy balls.

"On March 12, I was there, spent some time with him, cleaned his room got his bouncy ball and strings together. When I left him, he was drinking a chocolate shake on the patio. I hugged him, kissed him and said, 'See you later' and he didn’t see me later," Kirby said.

She was hopeful she would get to see her son soon after the state announced limited visitations, but then she read the details.

“I wanted to jump for joy, and then I looked at the criteria, and within five minutes, my heart dropped. How will we ever meet this criteria? Zero positive residents? We have not had zero positive residents since March, and in fact, there were more positive residents, even in July" Kirby expressed.

One of those residents included her son. He tested positive for the virus last month.

"I was upset because the governor HHS and everyone has told us that keeping us out will keep Petre and our loved ones safe, it did not," Kirby said.

Currently there are six residents and 17 staff members who have tested positive for the coronavirus at the Denton State Supported Living Center.

Once facilities meet the guidelines of no positive cases, people will be able to see their loved ones from afar through a Plexiglas, according to the state.

"Petre doesn’t understand what rules are, so say we get there, staff will have to hold on to him to get him to sit still.  I’ll be on the other side of the plexiglass, what if wants to get up and come hold my hand? Petre always held my hand, all the time. Are they physically going to remove him? Am I going to get booted off campus, Petre doesn’t understand rules, " Kirby said.

She's worried the isolation is going to harm her son and others who haven't seen their loved ones in person for the past five months.

Kirby said she saw her son briefly at the hospital early in July when he was taken to the emergency room for a health concern. He was later taken back to the Denton State Supported Living Center.

"COVID is not the only thing that can kill our loved ones," said Kirby who worries for her son being isolated.

Nursing Facilities

  • For the health and safety of facility residents and staff, public visitation is limited to outdoor visits only. Physical contact between residents and visitors is not permitted. Additional conditions a facility must meet to conduct limited outdoor visitation include:
  • No confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in staff in the last 14 days.
  • No active positive cases in residents.
  • Any facility previously experiencing an outbreak that has fully recovered must be adequately staffed and following adequate infection control procedures.
  • Facility staff are being tested for COVID-19 weekly.
  • Further guidance on limited nursing facility visitation rules, which include window visits and vehicle parades, will be posted on the HHSC COVID-19 provider web page.

Long-Term Care Facilities (except Nursing Facilities)

  • Limited indoor and outdoor visitation procedures are allowed. Physical contact between residents and visitors is not permitted. Additional conditions a facility must meet to conduct limited visitation include:
  • No confirmed COVID-19 positive staff in last 14 days.
  • No active positive cases in residents.
  • Adequate staffing to facilitate visitation in compliance with infection control requirements.
  • Use of plexiglass as a safety barrier for indoor visitation to prevent spread of COVID-19.
  • Further guidance on limited indoor and outdoor visitation rules will be posted on the HHSC COVID-19 provider web page.

The HHSC is also issuing enhanced emergency rules requiring additional actions by nursing facilities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Emergency Rule Enhancements

  • Enhanced emergency rules for nursing facilities include:
  • Each facility must have a COVID-19 response plan that includes designated staff to work with cohorts of residents who have tested positive for COVID-19, and staff should not change designation from one day to another, unless required to maintain adequate staffing for a cohort.
  • All nursing facilities must screen all residents, staff, and people who come to the facility in accordance with specified criteria, and each resident must be screened at least three times a day for signs or symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Each facility must have plans for obtaining and maintaining a two-week supply of personal protective equipment and resident recovery plans for continuing care when a resident recovers from COVID-19.

The full emergency rules will be posted on the HHSC COVID-19 provider web page.

“Access to family and loved ones is an important part of every resident’s health and well-being, which is why this policy shift is a move in the right direction for some of our most fragile Texans,” said Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (SD-18), Chair, Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.

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