The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) recently announced new guidelines for limited outdoor visitation at nursing homes and community residential care facilities, commonly referred to as assisted living facilities.
“We understand how difficult it has been during these past few months for friends and families to be distanced from their loved ones who reside in nursing homes and similar facilities, but we believe the visitation restrictions put in place have helped save lives and have helped protect the health and wellbeing of the dedicated workers who care for these residents,” said Marshall Taylor, Acting Director of DHEC.
A facility’s ability to allow visitation depends on a number of factors, including but not limited to the following:
Existing cases of the virus within the facility
Facility’s staffing capabilities and PPE availability
Facility’s ability to comply with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) testing requirements.
Each nursing home and assisted living facility will need a reasonable amount of time in order to meet the criteria outlined in these guidelines, meaning outdoor visitation will not be immediately available. South Carolinians are encouraged to coordinate directly with facilities to determine when visitation may be permitted and to coordinate visits when possible.
DHEC also recommends that these guidelines be used by intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
“Our first priority when developing these guidelines was to protect both the physical and mental health of our loved ones who call nursing homes and assisted living facilities their home,” said Dr. Joan Duwve, DHEC Public Health Director. “As we are all too aware, these vulnerable individuals are among those at highest risk for developing life-threatening and life-taking complications from COVID-19.”
These limited outdoor visitation criteria and guidelines are based on the most recent CMS guidance for reopening nursing homes, CDC guidance for COVID-19 in nursing homes, and DHEC’s long-term care facility testing guidance, as well as visitation plans from other states. The guidelines are available in full on DHEC’s website, on the “Nursing Homes” resource webpage accessible toward the bottom of the main COVID-19 landing page.
For those facilities that are able to meet the criteria outlined in the guidelines, they may allow for physically distanced outdoor visitation for a limited period of time.
As of today, there are 90 nursing homes in the state that meet the criteria of not having cases among residents or staff within the prior 14 days, and there are 31 nursing homes that have only had one case in the last 14 days and would hopefully soon meet this criteria as well.
Since visitation restrictions have been implemented to protect long-term care facility residents, 129 South Carolina nursing homes have taken advantage of the CMS COVID-19 Communicative Technology grant and received funding to connect residents with their family members using tablets, smart phones, and other devices. This grant support provided a way for nursing home residents to see, hear and talk with their loved ones remotely.
“With these new guidelines, the Governor, DHEC, and the facilities that care for our loved ones are so happy to bring those critical connections from cyberspace to an outdoor space, and we look forward to many socially distanced but happy reunions,” Duwve said.
For more information, visit www.scdhec.gov/COVID19.