Nursing home facilities relax some restrictions, some groups urge for more

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 8:05 AM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Alabama Nursing Home leaders say COVID safety restrictions are starting to relax for visits, but if you were hoping to see your loved one more freely that could take some more time.

The spokesperson for the Alabama Nursing Home Association says people who are unvaccinated must still wear a mask during visits, but people who are fully vaccinated have less restrictions.

“Fully vaccinated people can visit fully vaccinated loved ones without a mask,” said John Matson with the Alabama Nursing Home Association. Because staff still have to facilitate visits, there may still be a time period on visits. 15 mins, 30 mins, an hour.”

Data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services shows about 73 percent of current facility residents in the state have the COVID-19 vaccine. State nursing home leaders say COVID cases in nursing homes are down by 99 percent from the peak of cases in December.

But even with promising data, nursing home leaders say they can’t make major COVID policy changes until the federal government gives the okay.

“If we don’t follow those rules, then we could get in trouble, fined or consequences and that wouldn’t help with providing patient care,” said Matson.

Some national organizations are pushing the federal government to relax restriction for all nursing home facilities.

The National Consumer Voice for Long-Term Care sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services calling for the agency to restore full visitation rights at nursing homes, noting some guidelines such as the length of a visit have not changed since the start of the pandemic.

State leaders believe change is coming, but say for now they must err of the side of caution.

“We look forward to the days when the nursing home is open all day long and you can come in and visit,” said Matson, “Until these restrictions are relaxed by the federal government, this is the path forward now.”

State nursing home leaders say they have not been told what benchmark facilities must meet before they can return to pre-COVID operations.

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