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Tennessee has lifted some of its restrictions on visits at long-term care facilities and recommends facilities follow CMS guidance. Both of Hartsville’s facilities, in many cases, were already following that guidance.

The Tennessee Department of Health has lifted its own specific restrictions on visitation at long-term care facilities, but in Trousdale County little has actually changed.

TDOH announced on Feb. 24 that beginning Sunday, Feb. 28, long-term care facilities should use the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services guidance for safe operation and visitation.

Per this guidance, nursing homes may allow indoor visitation when there has been no new onset of COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days and the facility is not currently conducting outbreak testing.

Pete Prins, administrator at Hartsville Health & Rehab, said his facility had in fact been following the CMS guidelines since October.

“What they said effective last Oct. 1, was that as long as there’s no facility-wide outbreak of COVID-19… facilities could set up their own program with regards to visitation and some group activities,” Prins said. “We haven’t changed anything.”

Charity West, administrator at Trousdale Senior Living Center, said they have also been following CMS guidance and would take a slower approach on the lifting of restrictions.

“We’re going to slowly open up. Our residents have been so isolated for over a year now,” West said. “I feel it would be an injustice to them just to open the doors and let everybody come in.”

TSLC will limit the number of people allowed in at any one time and visitors will have to wear masks, West said. Visits must be scheduled and will be limited to around an hour, in order to give more opportunities for all residents to have visitors.

“We want everyone to have the opportunity to visit with their loved ones,” West said. “As long as everyone stays well and everything goes good, we will begin lifting some of those restrictions.”

The CMS guidelines allow for indoor visitation if there has been no new onset of COVID cases in the last 14 days and the facility is not conducting outbreak testing. The guidance also encourages “compassionate care” visits and gives specific examples such as:

When a resident who was living with their family before recently being admitted to a nursing home is struggling with the change in environment and lack of physical family support;

When a resident who is grieving after friend or family member recently passed away;

When a resident needs help and encouragement with eating or drinking, previously provided by family, is experiencing weight loss or dehydration; and

When a resident who used to talk to others, is experiencing emotional distress, seldom speaking, and crying frequently (when he/she had rarely cried in the past).

“Nursing homes said, ‘Look, we can’t just shut down the world. We’ve got to allow some opportunities for people to come in and make a difference for residents who are struggling,’ ” Prins said. “Right now we are allowing twice-a-week visits for our residents.”

Trousdale Senior Living Center has been allowing outdoor visits, as many of its rooms have patio access. West said this allowed residents and families to visit, while limiting potential contact with others. TSLC has also allowed in-person visits for residents who were in hospice care, West said.

Prins said the CMS guidelines also allowed for communal dining and group activities, as long as social distancing can be maintained and residents wear

masks when not eating.

“That includes the ability for clergy to come in and provide some group services,” Prins added. “CMS is still allowing some leeway for nursing facilities to safeguard their residents.”

The availability of a COVID-19 vaccine also has made it easier to lift restrictions at long-term care facilities, according to TDOH. Prins and West each said all residents and staff at their respective facilities who wanted to be vaccinated had received both doses of the vaccine.

“The health and safety of vulnerable Tennesseans, especially our long-term care residents, remains our top priority, and our comprehensive and persistent efforts to protect this population from COVID-19 have saved lives,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey in a press statement. “Now that vaccinations at all long-term care facilities are nearing completion, we are ready to transition to a more sustainable approach of following these best practices for safe operation of long-term care facilities in Tennessee.”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-450-5756 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

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