Michigan partially lifts order barring nursing home visits during pandemic

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By Christina Hall, Detroit Free Press, June 30 2020

After more than three months of waiting, families and friends of some residents in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities will be able to visit their loved ones in person.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon signed two orders Tuesday that provide for expanded visitations at group facilities, including nursing homes and facilities for youths who are in child care institutions or juvenile justice facilities.

For those in long-term care facilities, the order would allow visits only with residents who are in serious or critical condition or in hospice care or visits from family members or friends who assist residents with activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing or dressing.

“It’s been very difficult for residents of these facilities to be unable to see their loved ones during the pandemic,” Gordon said in a news release. “We are glad Michigan can now allow visits in some circumstances, but we continue to urge caution and require safety precautions like wearing masks during visits.”

The four-page orders are effective immediately, according to the release.

Visitors to these types of facilities have been restricted since March to slow the spread of COVID-19, especially to long-term care facilities, whose residents have accounted for about a third of Michigan’s more than 5,900 deaths from the virus.

On Friday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer extended the restrictions through July 24, but said officials may gradually allow some visits “as circumstances permit.”

The state health department was to make exceptions to the visitation policy in some circumstances and was to release information this week.

Facilities must meet specific safety requirements, such as requiring masks during visits. In long-term care facilities, visitors must schedule an appointment.

Both orders require visitors to be assessed for coronavirus symptoms and to maintain social distancing. The state health department is encouraging outdoor visitation when possible.

Otherwise, visits for those in long-term care facilities are to occur in a resident’s room, if private, or a room designated by the facility, which must make adequate staff available to assist with moving residents, monitoring visitation and wiping down after each visit.

Residents are not to be transported through any space designated as COVID-19 care space or any space where residents suspected or confirmed to be infected with the virus are present, according to the order.

Visits would be prohibited to residents who are in isolation or under observation for coronavirus symptoms.

The order for long-term care facilities includes nursing homes, homes for the aged, adult foster care facilities, hospice facilities, substance abuse disorder residential facilities, independent living facilities and assisted living facilities.

Monica Cheick of Harper Woods said the parameters in the order don’t sound like they would apply to her visiting, in person, her 83-year-old mother, who is at Martha T. Berry Medical Care Facility in Mount Clemens.

However, perhaps, it would allow the door to opened a little more going forward.

“I think it’s compassionate that they’re allowing the most vulnerable residents having those visits. My heart breaks for those elderly’s loved ones. They can’t have any interaction with them,” Cheick said. “Maybe those residents aren’t aware of what’s going on, but for the loved ones, it’s imperative.”

Cheick, who had her first window visit with her mother in three months on Thursday, said the facility reached out to her Tuesday to schedule her next window visit next Monday.

On Monday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced that starting July 20 nursing homes in that state will be allowed to start outdoor visitation as all safety standards are met.

The state offered a half-dozen considerations to nursing homes when assessing their readiness to permit outdoor visitation. They include: case status in the surrounding community and in the nursing home, staffing levels, access to adequate testing for residents and staff, personal protective equipment supplies and local hospital capacity, according to the Ohio governor’s website.

Read the orders from the Michigan health department director HERE (PDF)

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