Since the pandemic first reared its ugly, viral head in March, visitations to long-term care facilities were suspended and, as a result, residents and their families faced a public health crisis and a personal one – the rule left many Texans unable to comfort or communicate with their loved ones.
“Over the last six months, one of the most difficult challenges was balancing the health and safety of the individuals residing in their long-term care facilities and their personal and social well-being,” said Michelle Dionne-Vahalik, associate commissioner for long-term care regulations for Texas Health and Human Services.
Thankfully, things are changing. As community spread decreases, Gov. Greg Abbott recently amended visitation rules.
In a Texas Bullhorn Facebook Live Conversation with AARP Texas Director Tina Tran, Dionne-Vahalik highlighted exactly what this rule change means.
“Every facility has the ability to have some level of visitation,” she said, whether that’s closed-window visits, end of life visits or the essential caregiver program. Other types of visitation include open-window, outdoor, indoor or a vehicle parade.
To qualify for specific visitation types, facilities need to file an attestation form outlining what steps they are taking to contain viral spread.
“We are optimistic because one of the big barriers was testing,” said Dionne-Vahalik. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid services distributed over 1,100 antigen machines to Texas facilities, so they should have easier access to complete testing and indoor visitation.
Facilities with COVID-positive individuals can still have indoor visitations, as long as they demonstrate successful isolation. For example, they should designate a wing or facility space for positive residents and must prove the spread stays within that area.
They also need to prove they are testing regularly, they have staff to facilitate visitations and conduct visitor screening processes and that they have complete COVID-free areas, where there is no spread for at least 14 days, Dionne-Vahalik said.
Visitors will be asked to wear a mask.
“Remember, we ask that you don’t lower your mask,” said Dionne-Vahalik. “I think that’s going to be the hardest thing when you encounter your loved one. You may physically touch them, hold their hand, hug them, but with your mask on.”
Essential Caregiver Program
“Every facility right now qualifies for the Essential Caregiver Program,” Dionne-Vahalik said. The only time an essential caregiver cannot visit is if their loved one has an active COVID-19 diagnosis.
Facilities need to create a caregiver policy, which should include specific training for the essential caregiver and what level of PPE is required. The caregiver will need to produce a COVID-19 negative test within 14 days of their first visit.
Advice for families
“We encourage transparency,” said Dionne-Vahalik. “One of the biggest challenges has been communication and sharing of information.”
Families should ask facilities questions like:
- What is the status of your home?
- Do you have an isolated area?
- How long has it been since a staff member or resident tested positive?
- What else can I do as a visitor to help speed the process along?
“And take the essential caregiver training they give you seriously,” she added.
To stay up to date on rule changes and alerts, visit the Texas Health and Human Services website.