This afternoon a small window of hope opened for thousands of families who have been separated from loved ones for nearly five months. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) released new guidelines today that will allow limited visits at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
The new plan allows for outdoor visits only with no physical contact for those in skilled nursing facilities. The facility must be free of any active cases among residents, and no staff members can have tested positive for the last 14 days.
The new rules also allow for one designated family member to make indoor visits where a doctor has diagnosed and documented that the nursing home resident has “failure to thrive,” Dave Kostroum, Deputy Executive Commissioner for Regulatory Services of HHSC said in a webinar on Friday afternoon.
Failure to thrive is a state of decline often characterized by inactivity, weight loss, and depression. The indoor visits with these declining patients at nursing homes will only be allowed where the patient cannot tolerate an outdoor visit, he explained.
Limited indoor and outdoor visits are allowed at other long-term care facilities, such as assisted living centers. Again, no physical contact will be allowed, and there must be no active cases present among any residents.
“Today’s announcement is a critical first step for every person in a long-term care facility and their loved ones,” said Rep. James Frank (HD-69), Chair, Texas House Committee on Human Services in a press release.
“This decision underscores that state leaders recognize the need to balance the emotional and physical health impacts of isolation against the serious dangers that COVID poses to these vulnerable Texans.”
Families may expect facilities that have remained COVID free throughout the pandemic to open as early as next week, HHSC Executive Director Phil Wilson said during the webinar. However, most will have to go through a verification process with HHSC before opening to visitors.
Recently, a group called Texas Caregivers for Compromise has sent petitions with over 10,000 signatures to Governor Abbott asking for some allowance for family visits.
Additionally, 56 state legislators sent a letter to Wilson asking him to “immediately move forward and put a plan into action to allow limited family visitations” inside these long-term care facilities with appropriate guidelines to protect this vulnerable population.
“This is a small victory, but we will take it. It does help a whole lot of families,” Mary Nichols, one of the leaders of Texas Caregivers for Compromise told The Texan.
She pointed out that the outdoor visits at nursing homes don’t help residents who are incapacitated and can’t get out of bed. “It leaves out people like my mom,” she said tearfully.
Because it doesn’t allow for physical contact, it may lead to more confusion and frustration by those with dementia and other cognitive issues who can’t understand why their family member won’t hug them, Nichols pointed out.
She plans to continue working to allow for “essential family caregivers” who can be an extra set of eyes and hands and can help with tasks and relieve the pressure on the staff.
The group is planning a rally at the Texas Capitol on Saturday, August 8 at 10:00 a.m.
The full set of emergency rules will be published on the HHSC website.
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Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.