NY to allow nursing home visits again

David Robinson
John Christensen

New York is allowing limited visitation to resume at nursing homes and long-term care facilities after a months-long ban aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

State health officials on Friday announced the new rules for visitors to facilities that have been without COVID-19 for at least 28 days, a threshold set by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The new policy takes effect Wednesday.

Residents in the facilities will be allowed two visitors at a time, and the visitors must undergo temperature checks, wear face coverings and socially distance during the visit, state health officials said. At least one of the two visitors must be at least 18 years of age or older. For each facility, only 10% of the residents can be allowed visitors at any one time. For example, in a 100-bed facility no more than 10 residents can have visitors per day in order to maintain proper social distancing and ensure safe compliance, the rules stated.

The Homestead Nursing Home, administered by Finger Lakes Health and the site of all of Yates County’s fatal cases of COVID-19, is naturally being exceptionally cautious. 

“We don’t want to undo all the sacrifices families have made by the time spent apart from our residents,” says Lara Turbide of FLH Community Services. With the state DOH release of criteria for visits, FLH is just beginning to develop their plans for all their nursing homes. She adds that one staff member had visited a state now on the quarantine list, and that quarantine will not be lifted until July 28, so visitations are expected to begin at the end of the month.

The Penn Yan Manor, which has had no cases among staff or residents, had their first meeting to establish their safety plan Monday. They will be notifying families this week when visitation may begin.

Clinton Crest Manor, as an adult care facility, is under slightly different rules, says Administrator Deena Conley. They must develop their own safety plan, and will be notifying residents and their families when it is complete. Conley expects that to be by the end of this week or by Monday next week.

The policy change came after New York banned visitors to nursing homes on March 13, as part of a series of public health moves intended to protect the frail and elderly residents most susceptible to the respiratory disease. 

Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker on Friday said health officials “will continue to closely monitor the (visitation) situation in each facility, and make adjustments based on the facts and data moving forward.

“I know how painful it has been for residents of these facilities to endure such a long period of time without seeing family and loved ones, and my hope is that this adjustment to the visitation policy will provide some comfort to everyone,” he said in a statement.

Zucker lifted the visitation ban just days after the Health Department issued a report that contended COVID-19 infected nursing home workers and visitors unknowingly introduced the deadly virus into many facilities.

Citing the report findings, Zucker said “it is critical that as we resume visitations to these facilities we do it in a smart and cautious way to ensure the health and safety of residents and staff.”

Some advocates, lawmakers and the New York State Nurses Association union have also called for an independent investigation of the COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.

Also on Friday, state health officials announced they will allow the return of on-site visitation for the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, which provides additional support to residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, effective July 15, 2020.

Nursing home resident advocates have long called for the return of the on-site ombudsman program as an important piece of the independent oversight of facilities largely missing during the pandemic.

Under the new rules, ombudsman staff must utilize appropriate personal protective equipment, or PPE, for the duration of the visit, and must be screened as if they were a staff person of such nursing home, including having to present a verified negative test result to the nursing home within the past week.

Previously, state health officials on June 16 moved to allow limited visitation to resume at hospitals and group homes, but they delayed the decision on nursing homes and long-term care facilities due to the heightened risks. 

The Department of Health noted it will make adjustments to the visitation policy as appropriate based on facts and data following the initial phase to ensure the health and safety of residents, staff and visitors.

For further details about the visitation policies at nursing homes, adult care facilities and pediatric skilled nursing facilities, visit the state Health Department website, health.ny.gov.