The Alabama Nursing Home Association wants families to know that the organization hears the pleas of families to restart visitations for their loved ones, and is actively working to ensure that happens just as quickly as is safely possible.
Nursing homes in Alabama and across the world have been greatly impacted by COVID-19. Keeping residents and staff safe is paramount, explained John Matson, director of communications for the Alabama Nursing Home Association, speaking to APR on Wednesday.
Matson said the association and its member nursing homes are hearing regularly from families wanting desperately to visit their loved ones.
“We want you to know that the concerns are being heard and being addressed,” Matson said.
Brandon Farmer, the association’s president and CEO, in a statement Wednesday said that the association and its members are working toward the goal of reopening nursing homes to family and friends.
“We know it is important for our residents and their loved ones to have in-person visits,” Farmer said. “While reopening visitation is critically important, our top priority remains the health and safety of our residents and staff. Thanks to the hard work of our employees, we have made tremendous progress caring for those who are most vulnerable to this disease and many facilities that experienced outbreaks are now COVID-19-free or have very few cases.”
“We want to be confident that we have made in-person visits as safe as possible before reopening. The last thing we want to do is jeopardize this progress and have to close our doors again after reopening them for visitation,” Farmer said.
The association closed visitations when required to do so by state and federal mandates, Farmer said, noting that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued guidance in May on reopening nursing homes, but stressed that nursing homes should be among the last facilities to reopen to ensure safety of residents.
That federal guidance that mandates when states can restart nursing home visitations requires there to have been no new COVID-19 cases for 14 days, that there be adequate staffing, supplies of personal protective equipment and regular COVID-19 testing for residents and staff, among other parameters.
“CMS said nursing homes must consider the status of COVD-19 cases in their community and facility, access to PPE, testing for residents and staff and other factors before reopening. In-person visits must not allow for physical contact, maintain social distancing and visitors must be screened and wear a face covering,” Farmer said.
Matson said that some nursing homes in Alabama are allowing outdoor visitations, with protective measures in place. St. Martins in the Pines assisted living facility in Birmingham built an outdoor plexiglass enclosure where families can safely visit with their loved ones at a distance, he said, and Cumberland Health and Rehab in Bridgeport has a similar structure that allows for safe visitations.
The association is encouraging more nursing homes to follow suit and find ways to safely allow outdoor visitations as they’re able, Matson said.
“The Alabama Nursing Home Association is encouraging its members to allow in-person visitation within CMS and Alabama Department of Public Health parameters as soon as they are safely able to do so,” Farmer said. “We know our members will find creative ways to conduct safe, outdoor visits. I must stress that nursing homes care for people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 and must protect the health and safety of residents and staff. Reopening will be a deliberate process and depends greatly on the status of the disease in the local community. We appreciate the patience and understanding of families as we care for their loved ones and look forward to seeing them soon.”