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New Hampshire to loosen visitation restrictions on nursing homes

  • A group of protesters gathered outside the State House on Friday to bring attention to the plight of the elderly living in nursing homes during the pandemic.

Concord Monitor
Published: 5/5/2021 10:04:03 PM
Modified: 5/5/2021 10:04:01 PM

CONCORD — New Hampshire’s phased reopening guidelines for nursing homes will soon be replaced with federal guidance, which relaxes restrictions on visitation, group activities and trips outside the facility.

For several months, nursing homes have looked to a state document, which categorizes homes based on COVID-19 risk, to determine how to reopen safely. Several family members protested that these guidelines were too restrictive when it came to visitation.

The state announced this week it will no longer post any new guidance for long-term care facilities and instead ask administrators to refer to resources from the CDC and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The federal visitation guidelines have laid out a number of recommendations to safely allow residents to visit friends and family in the facility. Visitors can now meet indoors as long as the county in which the home is located has a positivity rate less than 10%, or if 70% of the residents have been fully vaccinated.

Even if the facility is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, guidelines stipulate that indoor visitations are still possible if the virus is contained to one section of the building. Compassionate care visitations are still permitted at all times, regardless of the facility’s outbreak or vaccination status.

If both the resident and his or her visitors are fully vaccinated, they can hug or touch each other when alone together in a visitation room. While it’s preferred that visitors are fully vaccinated, the guidelines explained that nursing homes should not ask for proof of vaccination from those outside the facility.

Just because these visitations are allowed, it doesn’t mean they will immediately be available, said Brendan Williams, the president of the New Hampshire Health Care Association.

The screening protocols for visitors that are required for COVID-19-era visitation are labor-intensive and homes with staffing shortages may have to limit appointments at first to ensure they can abide by safety guidelines.

The federal guidance also offers a path to normalcy in regard to a number of other nursing home freedoms like group activities, communal dining and trips outside the facility.

Book clubs, movies, crafts, exercise and bingo are all activities that can safely be held in long-term care facilities as long as appropriate precautions are taken.

If all the residents participating in the group activity are fully vaccinated, the activity can be held without social distancing or mask wearing. If one person in attendance is unvaccinated, be it a resident or staff member, everyone must wear masks.

Although homes will now be abiding by federal recommendations, Williams said state agencies will still be responsible for enforcing the guidelines.

Federal health agencies also OK’d resident trips outside the facility so long as they are informed about the risks and are reminded to avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.

This vague language concerned Williams, who said it left too much room for interpretation.

“I’m an attorney, I have a certain understanding of language and I see a lot of ambiguity there,” he said. “There’s a lot of ‘shoulds,’ ‘encourages,’ but no ‘musts.’ We want to get to some semblance of normalcy and the brighter the lines, the easier it is for us to follow them.”

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