McMaster, health officials announce outdoor visitation rules for nursing homes, assisted-living facilities

McMaster, health officials announce outdoor visitation rules for nursing homes, assisted-living

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC/WIS) - South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced new guidelines for limited outdoor visitation at nursing homes and assisted living facilities at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

McMaster called the restrictions to visitation that was implemented in March a “heartbreaking necessity,” but said it was “the most effective way” to contain the spread of COVID-19 and to save the lives of the state’s elderly and at-risk residents.

Under the plans released through the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, the facility must ensure that every item on this checklist is met before it offers visitation:

  • Screening of residents for any symptoms consistent with COVID-19 infection with documentation is occurring at least daily and for staff at the start of each shift.
  • Facility has adequate staffing and personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Facility must provide their written plan for limited outdoor visitation to DHEC’s Healthcare Quality division.
  • There have been no cases among staff and residents identified in the facility within the last 14 days.
  • For a nursing home, testing must be occurring per CMS requirements before visitation may begin at the facility. Community residential care facilities (and intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities who are recommended to follow these guidelines) may begin visitations before testing is in place, but testing as described in the CMS requirements for nursing homes must be occurring within 30 days from when these Guidelines for Outdoor Visitation are issued.

The plans state that the following triggers would temporarily suspend visitations:

  • If one or more cases are identified in residents and/or staff members, visitation must be suspended until CMS testing protocols are completed. Visitation may resume if fewer than three total cases have been identified.
  • If three or more cases are identified in staff members and/or residents within a 14-day period, visitation must be suspended. Visitation may resume 14 days after the identification of the last case.
    • Note: A resident that previously tested positive and now retests positive within three months of original positive test, is not considered a new case. It is unknown at this time whether an individual can be re-infected. This guidance may be updated as more information is learned on viral persistence and risk for reinfection.
  • For a nursing home, if testing is not occurring per CMS requirements, visitation must be suspended. For a community residential care facility (or an intermediate care facility for individuals with intellectual disabilities who are recommended to follow these guidelines), testing as described in CMS requirements for nursing homes must be occurring within 30 days from when these “Guidelines for Outdoor Visitation” are issued, or else visitation must be suspended until testing is in place and criteria are met.

“Our first priority when developing these guidelines was to protect both the physical and mental health of our loved ones who call nursing homes and assisted living facilities their home,” DHEC Public Health Director. Dr. Joan Duwve said. “As we are all too aware, these vulnerable individuals are among those at highest risk for developing life-threatening and life-taking complications from COVID-19.”

Here is the full list of guidelines released Tuesday:

Visitation at long-term care facilities has been restricted since March to end-of-life situations and on a case-by-case basis.

Over the summer, families of nursing home residents pushed for a loosening of the restrictions. On Aug. 21, McMaster requested DHEC move forward on the guidelines.

In its latest report, DHEC says that as of April 3, 1,011 nursing home residents and 18 staffers have died from COVID-19. It also lists a total of 4,887 confirmed COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents and 2,506 confirmed cases among nursing home staff members.

DHEC released a statement on Aug. 21, in which it said it recognizes social isolation “can have serious negative impacts on the health and well-being of residents in long-term care facilities and their loved ones.” But it said visitation would be phased in based on the disease levels in the facility and in the surrounding community.

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