The Safest Way to Allow Visitors to See Loved Ones Living in LTC Facilities

We must balance the risks of contracting COVID-19 with isolation-related patient decline.

Happy disabled woman reading a book in the nursing homeWhen COVID-19 first reached United States soil and long-term care facilities began closing their doors to visitors, most people understood the logic behind such decisions. Contain the virus and keep the most vulnerable populations out of harm’s way. But as days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, outcries from family and friends wishing to see and support their loved ones through excruciatingly long periods of isolation became too loud to ignore.

Now, as we continue to face surges of COVID-19 cases nationwide, visitation rules remain a major pain point for medical staff, patients, and visitors alike. Physicians, nurse practitioners, and facility staff witness daily how extended isolation is impacting patients’ overall outlook and, in some cases, exacerbating rates of cognitive decline. Patients deeply miss interacting with their family members and friends, and many of them are exhibiting new signs of depression as they continue to wait out the pandemic alone. And family members are grappling with harsh reality that staying away from their loved ones protects them, as well as wastes the limited number of opportunities they have left to spend time with them.

It’s clear that while we cannot ignore the coronavirus, we also cannot continue to isolate long-term care patients in these ways without serious repercussions, such as deteriorating mental health and the progression of existing chronic conditions like dementia. We need to achieve a fine-tuned balance between risk management and social engagement to truly keep these patients as healthy as possible. Luckily, we’re not entirely at a loss for ideas.

As of July 7, 26 states and the District of Columbia are allowing outdoor visitation at nursing homes, and 18 states and the District of Columbia are allowing outdoor visitation at both nursing homes and assisted living centers. While these new visit allowances are subject to change with new COVID-19 outbreaks, they are giving many patients and their families a better chance to connect in person and heal from this trauma together.

In most cases, family and friends are required to schedule their visits in advance and conduct them entirely outdoors within facility gardens or patio spaces. Only one or two visitors can arrive at a time, and they are required to wear masks, maintain 6 feet of social distance, and agree to have the visit supervised by a staff member. Prior to the meetups, the visitors must have their temperatures checked and answer a COVID-19 screening questionnaire.

Granted, if a facility experiences a new case of COVID-19, either in a resident or a facility staff member, this visitation policy is suspended for up to 28 days. Many are actively criticizing this policy, saying it’s too strict to limit the entire group for such a long period of time and that it should instead only impact the infected individual. However, to safeguard against a full outbreak, such precautions are believed by regulation groups to be necessary.

In these instances, the best thing families can do is leverage the powers of technology to communicate. Facility staff is already stretched thin, but if someone can help a resident navigate to a video call with their family on whichever device they have in their room, that connection time does help. And even if a traditional phone call is the only available option, voice recognition and a soothing conversation can go a long way.

At the end of the day, we all must remember that everyone is challenged in different ways to navigate this pandemic, and having compassion for that shared struggle is key to finding successful solutions together. No one wants to see such a large population succumb to COVID-19 or decline significantly while we for the threat of the pandemic to subside. Everyone truly is on the same side of this argument. Meanwhile, we at GPM are ensuring that our software solutions remain a smart and simple, giving providers and their teams as much time back in their days as possible to deliver an even higher standard of patient care that is needed now more than ever.

Curious to learn how successful LTPAC practitioners are staying prepared for potential relapses of the coronavirus in their facilities? Read this article.