Just in time for the holidays, new federal guidance allows nursing home residents and their visitors to enjoy visits in comfort and safety. Citing the successful rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for nursing home residents this year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on Nov. 12 issued updated guidance allowing indoor visitation of residents at all times and for any reason, while facilities must still maintain safety precautions to protect residents and staff members from contracting COVID-19. In addition, effective Nov. 5, 2021, all nursing home facility staff members now must be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a requirement for participating in Medicare and Medicaid programs.
As you know, we’ve been updating you on visitation policies at long-term care facilities (LTCs) since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Due to the vulnerable nature of nursing home residents, along with the high risks of infection inherent with communal living, COVID-19 caused severe impacts at LTCs, including high rates of infection and, sadly, thousands of resident and staff member deaths. Originally, CMS issued visitation restrictions in March 2020 through March 2021, effectively banning visitation by all visitors and non-essential healthcare providers, except for end-of-life and certain compassionate care visits.
However, since early 2021, millions of residents and staff members have received COVID-19 vaccinations. Currently, CMS reports that about 86% of nursing home residents and 74% of staff are now fully vaccinated, and the number of infections at long-term care facilities has gone down by about 80 percent since January 2021. Concerned that staff vaccination rates are significantly lower than resident rates, CMS issued a new regulation in early November 2021 to protect residents, requiring that all staff members, providers and suppliers are to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a requirement for participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
With the greater access for visitors and residents, facilities must still maintain and adhere to the core principles of infection prevention that have been in place since the start:
Visitors who do not adhere to these principles will not be allowed to enter a facility or visit with a resident. Of course, residents may deny or withdraw their consent for a visit at any time.
The new CMS guidance supersedes its guidance from March 2021, which expanded nursing home visitation and allowed indoor visitation under certain scenarios. According to the new guidance:
CMS acknowledges there are still risks to residents with visitation but also recognizes that residents have the right to make their own choices regarding who they want to visit. As long as they are aware of the risks, and the visit doesn’t place other residents at risk, residents must be allowed to receive any visitors they choose.
For more information about the new visitation guidelines, please download or visit the following:
The Cozen O’Connor Elder Law team is available to assist nursing home residents and their family members with Medicaid and long-term care planning, advance directive/incapacity planning, estate planning, VA benefits planning and much more. Please call us at 1-800-ELDERLAW or (561) 750-3850, or contact us today.