TAMPA, Fla. — With the holidays around the corner, families are getting more guidance on how to handle visits with their loved ones in long-term care facilities.
This week, the Agency for Healthcare Administration released a question and answers document providing more clarity to an emergency order released by the Division of Emergency Management last month.
The order collapsed the title "essential caregiver" into the "compassionate caregiver" definition, allows children to visit, eliminates a maximum limit on how many visitors a resident can have listed and allows outdoor visits regardless of COVID cases.
The latest clarification from AHCA also offers clarification for the holidays.
“Every one of us that are fighting for our loved ones are going to lose our loved ones so to be able to have the holidays and some sense of normalcy with them here with us just is a gift that we weren’t sure we were gonna get,” said Mary Daniel.
Daniel is the founder of Caregivers for Compromise, serving as a voice for Florida families with loved ones in long term care facilities during the pandemic. Her husband is in a long term care facility.
“I am going to bring him home for Christmas Eve, but we have to be careful because we have to take it seriously we cannot be part of the problem we have to be part of the solution,” said Daniel. "I’m really really emphasizing that we educate ourselves, know what we have to do when they’re gone so when we come back we can safely answer the questions properly and our loved ones don’t have to be quarantined and we don’t have to worry about that risk."
The document explains that residents can leave a facility, including for holiday visits. It also explains that families must be informed of the precautions to take and that residents will be screened upon their return, including assessing potential exposure.
It states: There is no restriction on the length of absence and it may include an overnight absence. Residents leaving the facility temporarily must wear a face mask, if tolerated by the resident’s condition. Eye protection should also be encouraged. All residents must be screened upon return to the facility. Families must be informed of necessary precautions to take during the absence, and of the requirement to screen the resident upon return to the facility. Any time a resident is out in the community, the resident and the resident’s family should encourage adherence to infection prevention and control requirements, including social distancing and especially hand hygiene.In addition to routine screening criteria for temperature and symptoms, screening for returning residents should assess potential exposure such as contact with anyone who was symptomatic, attendance at large gatherings and adherence to social distancing. If upon return, the resident does not pass screening criteria, they should be quarantined or isolated based on their circumstances consistent with CDC guidance. If the resident passes screening criteria, then they do not have to be quarantined or isolated.
“The agency is saying here that when residents are out in the community they should be social distancing, wearing masks, engaging in proper hand hygiene and you know particularly when we talk about holidays that focus around eating I think it’s important to consider whether that’s really possible,” said Michael Hardy, general counsel and director of government affairs for the Florida Assisted Living Association, explaining assisted living facility residents have never been prevented from leaving.
“With visitation in assisted living facilities being reopened more and more as we go on and particularly in our current environment where we have increased cases here locally at the national level and internationally. I think it’s really important that people think about whether taking their loved one out of a facility that they have entrusted to care for their needs is really the best approach. You have this option to visit your loved one in the facility,” he said.
Others echoed the need to remain vigilant.
“We’re encouraging our families our visitors that when you do go home you’re practicing all the protocols wearing the mask we know wearing a mask really can help with the prevention the spread of COVID. Social distancing try to avoid large groups washing your hands hand sanitizer all those precautionary measures that we’re taking in the building we’re just encouraging our families that if they are taking their residents home for the holidays to practice those same important protocols,” said Kristen Knapp, the director of communications for the Florida Health Care Association.
Mary said she’s encouraging families to take this seriously.
“We have to practice social distancing. What I’ve said on the Facebook page today is it’s not going to be like a normal Christmas it’s not for all of us. So take that expectation out of your mind and adjust to it. The good news is we get to have them home,” Daniel said.