TAMPA, Fla. — The past year was one filled with isolation for Elyce Turba and her mother, a resident of a long-term care facility.
A few months ago, Turba said she got to see her mother in person again, though they still couldn’t touch. But this week, she was finally able to give her now vaccinated mother a hug after a year.
“It was just a joyous feeling at that point and also a very hopeful feeling. I thought maybe we’re coming to the end of this pandemic,” she said.
Last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released guidance, that though it has similarities to the state’s last order for long-term care facilities, it also expands indoor visits and touching.
The CMS guidelines still recommend physical distancing and outdoor visits when possible.
In the event of a new COVID-19 case, it recommends allowing visits to resume as long as facility-wide testing is complete and transmission is contained to a single area. If a resident is fully vaccinated, it says they can choose to have close contact with their visitor while wearing a mask.
The Florida Health Care Association, an advocacy organization, says it’s asked the state for future clarification. Nursing homes are regulated by both CMS and the Agency for Health Care Administration, though assisted living facilities are not regulated by CMS.
“We’ve informed our members and we’re guiding them that they should follow the stricter of the two regulations or the stricter of the two guidelines in this situation so that’s what they’ll be doing,” said the group’s director of communications, Kristen Knapp, noting facilities have been having families.
AHCA stated, “The recently released CMS guidelines support the approach Florida has taken to ensure that long-term care facilities encourage and enable families and compassionate care providers to visit residents, which we know is important to residents’ wellbeing. The Agency for Health Care Administration will continue to work with facilities to safely give residents and visitors greater freedom to spend more time with their loved ones.”
AHCA said there has been a 74% decrease in COVID positive residents of nursing homes and a 78% decrease in COVID positive residents of assisted living facilities in about the last month.
“The one thing that we’re seeing is that the vaccines are working. We’re seeing our positive cases decline so we’re all very hopeful. So I think you’re seeing that because you’re having those widespread vaccinations in our facilities as our numbers go down you know it gives us more opportunities to get back to normal,” said Knapp.
Knapp said they’re still working to educate staff, and looking at long-term strategies for vaccinations.
AHCA data shows 67.55 percent of nursing home residents and 92.65 percent of assisted living facility residents have received the vaccine.
Meanwhile, the agency says 35.15 percent of current nursing home staff and 39.67 percent of current assisted living facility staff have received the vaccine.
That number is concerning for Turba.
“I just really feel like as long as we can keep more people getting vaccinated and getting a vaccine that’s going to allow us all to go in and see people that we love to be around groups again so it’s not just those in the long term care but it’s for the benefit of all of us,” she said.
She’s hopeful in the future, people like hairstylists can also enter the facility. But for now, she’s smiling that they were able to hug.
“Well I’m hopeful it will help her to be able to feel that connection again and know that I haven’t abandoned her,” she said.