Even as the U.S. closes in on a milestone of 200 million people fully vaccinated against COVID-19, cases and hospitalizations are spiking again. With the rise of the Omicron variant, holiday travel and visitation hopes are on a collision course with public health and safety. Now that the holiday season is here, senior living communities and long-term care facilities and their operators are struggling with the implications that ‘holiday leave’ could have on older adults’ wellbeing in their care.
Unsurprisingly, senior living operators are taking a variety of approaches to limit the contagious spread of the coronavirus, particularly during the holiday season when families and loved ones congregate. Extended family gatherings with multiple households while celebrating indoors with marginal COVID-19 protections are of particular concern.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posts an extensive set of guidelines for Americans to follow and begins with the basics of checking potential gathering site community levels of COVID-19. Official state, city, and county health department linked information is also available through the CDC website. The CDC specifically states it “offers the following considerations to slow the spread of COVID-19 during small gatherings. These considerations are meant to supplement—not replace—any state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations with which all gatherings must comply.”
McKnight’s Senior Living is reporting a survey through LeadingAge reveals 81% of care and senior living providers are encouraging all of their residents not to travel for the holidays because of the pandemic. The survey also states that any resident or staff who leave a senior living facility for holiday celebrations should self-quarantine before returning. Most senior living facilities and communities will be asking residents to disclose travel plans as well as self-quarantining and having a COVID-19 test upon return. The hope to accommodate family visits within facilities brings a wide range of solutions that may prohibit visitors or welcome small numbers of people in a shared space, and other variants in-between. Nearly half of the survey provider respondents are discouraging any guests on the property except in the case of end-of-life, essential caregiver, or similar compassionate care situations.
Most senior living facility operators are doing their best to respond to the coronavirus spike in the US by implementing more stringent rules for holiday congregating. However, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) issued revised guidance for nursing home visitation making provisions to increase visitation opportunities with residents to combat the negative emotional and mental health impacts that family separation can cause. The CMS instructions complicate things for many senior living facility operators as their instinct is to heavily restrict visitation and travel outside of the senior living community to protect residents. CMS has made it clear that failure to comply with their revised guidance may cause citations or other penalties as CMS deems appropriate.
The pressure is on facilities to find innovative ways to recognize the holidays without excessive personal gatherings, which increases the risk of coronavirus transmission within the facility. Also, facilities must implement self-quarantine and increased testing for those residents who choose and have the right to leave the nursing home to visit family or friends. Following all appropriate infection prevention guidance while facilitating resident holiday visitation and travel is proving to be as confusing as it is potentially dangerous. Everyone in contact with an older adult, whether in your home or during a facility visit, needs to double down on infection control and increased testing to help save lives.
Our firm is dedicated to helping our clients and their loved ones work through issues and implement sound legal planning to address them. If we can help in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact our office at (630) 221-1755.