From Outdoor Visits to Designated Family Caregivers, Nursing Homes Cautiously Reopen Doors

When it became apparent that COVID-19 was sweeping the country, one of the earliest major preventative steps was a move by the federal government to instate a near-total lockdown on any unnecessary visits.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the sweeping ban on March 13, which did include an exception for end-of-life visitations. Health care workers, such as third-party practitioners like hospice staff and dialysis technicians, were exempt as long as they met the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance at the time.


The ban also included a complete suspension of group activities in nursing homes.


The result was to effectively keep residents confined to their rooms. It was a move that made sense at least at first; there were many unknowns about how COVID-19 spread, and one of the few known facts about the illness was its heightened lethality for older people and those with underlying chronic health conditions.


"The first real epicenter for COVID in the U.S. was in a nursing home, you know, in Kirkland," Tony Chicotel, a staff attorney for the advocacy organization California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), told Skilled Nursing News on July 15. "That, I think, just drove up the panic level by a multiple of two or three, so that it was just: Okay, shut it down, build a moat. Don’t let anybody into these places other than the staff."


But as COVID-19 continues to ripple across the country, "building a moat" is becoming less and less feasible, especially as the possibility of resuming visits as they were pre-COVID seems to be years away, he said.


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