Nursing home visit

Kathy and Bill Boyd of Allegany visit Kathy’s mother, Dorothy Kelly, a resident at the Pines Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center’s Olean Campus, in a window visit area in early May. New York state will begin allowing visitors inside nursing homes under certain parameters.

ALBANY (TNS) — New York nursing homes that have gone 14 days without a coronavirus case can reopen for limited visitation, the state Department of Health announced Tuesday.

That’s down from a 28-day threshold that had been in place since July but that many homes were unable to meet. The department says its new rule, which takes effect Thursday, should clear the way for approximately 500 of the state’s 613 nursing homes to resume visitation.

”We understand how trying it has been for New Yorkers to not see their loved ones and the challenges they’ve had to endure during this unprecedented pandemic,” state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said.

“We continue to be guided by science and concern for residents’ welfare and will monitor nursing homes that host visitors, to make sure this action does not lead to an increase in cases,” he added.

Nearly 6,500 nursing home residents in New York have died of COVID-19, according to state data. That does not include the number of residents transferred to hospitals before they died, which Zucker claims needs to be reviewed for accuracy before being released to the public.

The state has set strict rules for visitation under its latest guidance:

• Visitors must present a verified negative test result within the last seven days.

• Visitors must undergo temperature checks, wear face coverings and socially distance during visits.

• Entry is denied if a visitor fails to present a negative test result, exhibits any COVID-19 symptoms, or does not pass screening questions.

• Visitors under the age of 18 are prohibited.

• The number of visitors to a nursing home must not exceed 10% of the resident census at any time.

• Only two visitors will be allowed per resident at any one time.

• Nursing homes that wish to resume visitation will be required to send their visitation plan to the state and affirmatively attest that they will follow state guidance.

Nursing homes have been under near-total lockdown since March in an attempt to keep the virus from spreading to their vulnerable populations. But as the months wore on, families began reporting physical, cognitive and behavioral declines in their loved ones that they were witnessing through virtual or window visits.

In July, the Department of Health announced limited visitation could resume at senior facilities that had no cases of coronavirus among either residents or staff for 28 consecutive days. Few were able to meet that standard, which the department says was based on federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services guidance at the time.

Last week, after the state lowered the threshold to 14 days for assisted living facilities but not skilled nursing facilities, Shimkus began to tweet at the governor and state legislators, begging them to help bring the same relaxed rules to nursing homes.