IMPORTANT CORONAVIRUS PREPAREDNESS INFORMATION June 5th 2020
Editorial – Visitation in Senior Living Facilities
As the State of Minnesota begins its phased opening, and our City of Winona follows suit, we would like to provide some information and make a request with regard to visitors at our regional residential living centers, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, group homes and any other type of congregate housing facility.
The number of people testing positive across the country and in Minnesota has not leveled off or declined and there continues to be a daily death toll. In fact, by one estimate 27% of COVID-19 deaths nationally occurred in nursing homes. In Minnesota we know that 80% of the deaths have occurred in nursing homes. We all know the vulnerabilities of these populations. It is for this reason that the leaders of our area residential facilities want to share with you plans for ongoing visitor restrictions as well as options and expectations for loosening these restrictions.
Based on the COVID-19 experience in the US, and the disproportionate impact to senior residential facilities, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) released stringent criteria for states, local officials as well as nursing home leaders as they consider reopening. Other residential facilities could be held to these same standards under a COVID-19 threat. It is important to know that the purpose of these standards is to protect residents and staff from contracting and spreading the virus to others. We also know that there is high variation among communities of COVID-19, which must be considered, and when there is a low prevalence the goal is to keep it that way.
Factors that are included in decision-making about re-opening include the status of positive cases in the local community, staffing levels in these facilities (losing anyone to quarantine stresses already limited resources), access to testing, stringent use of masking including visitors, sufficient PPE for staff use, and local hospital capacity. It is also recommended that facilities continue with strict controls while the local community and the state continue their plans for re-opening. In other words, re-opening residential facilities to the public should lag others by at least 14 days.
The Minnesota Department of Health is conducting Infection Prevention and Control surveys in every nursing home and hospital in the state. While we are all used to the survey process, this is an added oversight to ensure adherence to all of the required practices. As testing has occurred in our regional facilities, we have not found any positive cases. This speaks to the rapid adoption and adherence to infection prevention practices in residential facilities in and around Winona. But these restrictions also have a price.
Our regional Winona community is fortunate to have excellent residential facilities caring for our elderly and disabled neighbors. The staff in our facilities do not replace family, but they do become family to the residents. During this time of COVID this has become even more apparent. Facilitating FaceTime calls, video chats, window conversations, as well as providing personal attention in a time of isolation are shifts in focus our staff are happy to do. Separation from families is a hardship for our residents, and staff are doing their best to fill the void.
We all look forward to the day families can return to normal onsite visits; we miss all of you, too! At such time that this occurs, please know there will be heightened screening prior to entering a facility. And masking will be required along with hand hygiene. We will not be discontinuing any of the practice put in place to protect residents, staff, or visitors. Social distancing is now part of our normal day and we are getting creative to accommodate this and still have meaningful connections.
So, what you really want to know is when can you come and visit? The answer is likely not satisfying: “it depends”. Right now, we must maintain strict standards and continue to keep our facilities COVID free. Recent mass gatherings have the potential to spike positive cases in the state and increase the spread. We will be watching this carefully. Certainly, compassionate care for end of life situations will be treated differently so family can be present. Each facility will monitor their own situation and use prudent judgment to loosen up restrictions with respect to regulatory guidance. Generally, we share our plans and operate similarly with regard to these regulations. We ask for patience, understanding, and support. And in return, we offer the same. We will all use our best judgment to accommodate residents and families with the goal of keeping everyone safe.
Winona are Residential Facility Leaders