There are 71,000 people living in 691 licensed nursing homes in Florida, and thousands more in assisted living residences. Nursing homes and assisted living residences provide comfort, security and help. But these days, they also provide everything the corona virus needs to get a foothold: groups of older, more susceptible people living in close proximity to one another.
A blizzard of new federal and state rules to protect residents’ health have been issued over the last few weeks. Those same rules are leaving many residents lonely and isolated, as well as demanding heroic efforts from facility staff. Here is an overview of the key rules under our “new normal”:
You cannot visit, for now:
On March 14, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration banned most visitors to long-term care facilities and assisted living residences. The ban lasts for 30 days, but may be extended. Exceptions may be made for compassionate visitations (end of life visits, for example). Anyone seeking entry to a facility may be given a screening questionnaire and have their temperature taken. Staff members are also checked for fever upon arrival.
Communal dining and other group activities have been curtailed. Residents are also discouraged from leaving the facility except for essential services.
How can you stay in touch with a resident?
By now you’ve probably seen news clips of family members standing outside residents’ windows, blowing kisses and holding up signs. But there are other, simpler ways to stay in touch with your loved one. Phone calls. Old fashioned letters. (Although some are worried about infected paper surfaces, the CDC and WHO say that this is an unlikely means of viral transmission). In some facilities, a staff member goes from room to room to coordinate video chats for families via skype, face time, etc.
How you communicate with your loved one will obviously depend on many factors, including your technical expertise, technology available at your loved one’s residence, and your loved one’s cognitive functioning.
You won’t necessarily know if the residence has COVID19 cases:
As of March 31, 66 long-term care residents at 19 different facilities in Florida had tested positive for the virus. While families naturally want to know if their loved one’s living facility is affected, Florida is withholding the identity of affected facilities. According to the AHCA, releasing the information would violate HIPAA privacy laws. And Florida Governor DeSantis believes the information would cause relatives to worry unnecessarily. Critics counter that HIPAA applies to individuals, not facilities, and that being kept in the dark causes more worry. In any event, Stefan Grow, an attorney for ACHA, says the information will be released only when “…the State Health Officer’s determination that release of the information is necessary for the protection of the public’s health.”
No new admissions:
In order to protect residents and staff during the pandemic, long-term care nursing homes are accepting new residents only if they are transferring directly from a hospital stay. Hospitals must follow strict protocols to ensure that discharged patients have tested negative for the virus.
Assisted living facilities are accepting new residents, but only after careful screening to ensure the applicant is virus-free.
Here’s hoping that we return soon to the OLD normal. Good health to all!