At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing homes across the United States saw just how quickly the virus could spread. To help prevent the spread, nursing homes began limiting in-person contact between nursing home residents, staff, family members and others. In some facilities it seems like visitation restrictions helped. In others, it seems like it had little impact on the spread of the voracious coronavirus.
Nursing Home Residents Isolated by Visitation Restrictions
In March 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued guidance for restricting visitation in nursing homes. CMS guidelines urged nursing homes to restrict visitors and all non-essential healthcare personnel from facilities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) echoed CMS in recommending nursing homes to restrict visits.
In March and April 2020, nursing home visitation declined by 53 percent. Between April and June the numbers started to rebound, but visits were still down 33 percent. It is suggested that the reduction in visits is actually closer to 100 percent, however. Erin Shvetzoff Hennessey, who is the CEO of Health Dimensions Group, says,
“While this data does show the significant drop in visitors, it does not quite fully convey that there was almost a 100% decrease in [non-essential] visits that bring great joy to our residents — visits from their family and friends.”
Visitation restrictions affect almost every aspect of life for nursing home residents. The restrictions halted visits by anyone deemed non-essential, including family members, clergy, beauticians, non-essential healthcare providers, entertainment and more.
While the restrictions were deemed necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus, they have taken a toll on nursing home residents and their loved ones. Nursing home residents report feeling isolated and lonely. They miss their family members and peers, and miss the freedom of moving about and participating in activities.
Family members also report feeling the impact of visitation restrictions. Family members continue to experience the gamut of emotions – from concern to anger to distress. Families rely on visits with their loved ones to ensure that they are safe, happy, healthy and well cared for. Not being able to visit nursing home residents means that families cannot directly oversee their care and quality of life.
Nursing Home Visitation Restrictions and COVID-19 Numbers
We know that nursing home residents continue to experience feelings of isolation and unhappiness with the lack of visitation. The question is, then, are the restrictions worth it? Have restrictions in visitation had an impact on the spread of the coronavirus?
In late May, Forbes released a report stating that 42 percent of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. occur in 0.6 percent of the population. That 0.6 percent of the population is comprised of the 2.1 million people who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. That means that 42 percent of coronavirus deaths occurred in an incredibly concentrated demographic.
This statistic was considered very important as states began reopening. The fact that so many deaths have occurred in so small a demographic was thought to be a “silver lining”. The silver lining being the possibility that younger people and the general population were not at such a high risk of developing the coronavirus and transmitting it.
As the pandemic continues, many states are re-thinking their reopening plans. Several states have backtracked reopening, and some have even initiated new stay home orders.
Why Visitation is Important to Nursing Home Residents
Visitation is important to nursing home residents are several reasons. Primarily, residents love and miss their family members and rely on them for social engagement. They also rely on social interaction at the facility with their fellow residents. Social activities and public common areas great places for residents to meet their neighbors and become more socially active.
Next, research shows that infrequent visits by family or friends increases the risk of nursing home abuse or neglect. That is because predators or negligent caregivers are more likely to prey on a resident that does not have visitors often. That way, bruises or changes in behavior are less likely to be noticed. Also, there are less eyes on personal belongings and financial records.
With this in mind, it is clear that visitation is important for nursing home residents and their family members. Unfortunately, the coronavirus continues to plague many nursing homes, making it difficult for facilities to fully reinstate visits. This has led to many families using creative means to communicate with and “visit” their loved ones.
Family members are using voice and video calling to communicate with loved ones more now than ever. Many families are also doing “window visits”. Window visits are visits through the nursing home window. The nursing home resident stays inside, and family members gather outside. Using a telephone, they can hear each other while also seeing each other through the window.
Window visits are a great way to see your loved one and feel more confident that they are in good health. Telephone and video chats are great, but there is no substitute for seeing someone in person.
Can I Visit My Loved One?
If your loved one lives in a nursing home, you likely are anxious to resume regular visitation. The best way to find out if you can visit them is to contact the nursing home directly. Find out if normal visitation is possible, or if the facility is offering any type of visitation, such as window visits or outdoor visits with social distancing.
You may also find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the current visitation guidelines from CMS and the CDC. These guidelines will help you determine what your state is doing to protect nursing home residents, including restrictions on visitation.
If you have questions about the care your loved one is receiving, especially during this uncertain time, do not hesitate to contact Nursing Home Abuse Center. We can help you understand the legal rights of nursing home residents and what you should expect from a long-term care facility. To learn more, request a consultation with our nursing home abuse lawyer by calling 1-866-548-9636.