What to ask before visit a nursing home

As COVID-19 restrictions ease in Washington, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have resumed visits for families. Visits won’t be the same as before the pandemic, at least until the threat of coronavirus has passed. There may be limits on when, where, and for how long you can see loved ones, and distancing rules will likely be in place.
We’ve been through an unprecedented crisis with the pandemic. This was the first time many family members couldn’t visit in-person with their loved ones for such a long time. Even as restrictions ease, visits will look different for the near-future.
If your loved one’s nursing home is resuming in-person visits, AARP recommends asking the facility five key questions to prepare:
1. What is the nursing home doing to help make it safe for visitors to come back? The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which regulates long-term care facilities, provided nursing homes with recommendations about resuming in-person visits, including:

  • At least 28 days without a new COVID-19 case in the facility.
  • Declining cases in the surrounding community.
  • Regular testing for residents.
  • Adequate supplies of personal protective equipment.
  1. What kinds of health checks will be required for visitors?The federal guidelines include:
  • Checking visitors’ temperatures.
  • Asking visitors about COVID-19 symptoms and their potential exposure.
  • Observing visitors for symptoms or signs of infection.
  1. Are visits restricted by time and place?Keep in mind:
  • You may need an appointment for your visit.
  • Visiting hours may be restricted.
  • Visits may be time-limited or only in designated areas.
  • You may be able to set a regular schedule for visiting your loved one.
  1. What protective and social-distancing measures are in place, under federal guidelines? You may need to:
  • Wear a mask or use hand sanitizer. Ask if the facility will provide them.
  • Stay six feet away from your loved one.
  • If you want to bring food or gifts, ask the facility about its policies first.
  1. Are you doing everything possible to minimize risks to residents?
  • Don’t visit if you feel ill, even if the symptoms are mild, or if you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19 in the previous two weeks.
  • Keep visits short, and stay outdoors if possible.
  • Consider a virtual visit by phone or video chat as an alternative to visiting in-person.

The top priority is keeping residents of nursing homes, assisted-living and other long-term care facilities, their family members and staff safe as in-person visits resume.

In addition, AARP is urging Congress to ensure all long-term care facilities regularly test residents and staff; have and correctly use personal protective equipment; publicly report COVID-19 cases and deaths daily; and facilitate virtual visits between residents and their families—even after in-person visits resume.
A video chat with family and friends reduces loneliness for nursing home residents, and the pandemic has reminded us just how important that connection can be.
AARP has more resources available at aarp.org/nursinghomes.

Doug Shadel, who wrote this article,  is the state director of AARP Washington.


State plan for reopening nursing facilities

A gradual return to pre-pandemic activities at long-term care facilities in Washington, including in-person visits, was announced in August by Governor Jay Inslee.

Starting Aug. 12, nursing homes and similar facilities that met certain health requirements could partially reopen to social activities that were curtailed due to the COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year.

Long-term care facilities must offer residents remote visitation in every phase. Other forms of visitation are also allowed depending on which long term care phase a facility is in.

For a facility in Phase 1 of the reopening plan, only window, remote or outdoor visits (two per day) are allowed, with an exception for compassionate-care visits. Phase 2 allows the same activities, with the addition of limited indoor visits for residents unable to participate in virtual or outdoor visits. Visits in Phase 3 can allow limited indoor visits for all residents.

Full visitation won’t be reinstated until Phase 4.

Facilities can participate in the phases if they go 28 days without a resident or employee testing positive for COVID-19 and have at least a 14-day supply of personal protective equipment.