JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday that visitation at nursing homes and assisted living facilities throughout Florida will once again resume.
The governor made the announcement during a roundtable discussion regarding long-term care facility visitation at ElderSource in Jacksonville. He was joined by Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew and Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom.
"The baseline law in the state of Florida is you have the right to visitation. We obviously had to suspend that as part of the emergency to try to keep the COVID from going in the facilities," DeSantis said. "We did have some exceptions, of course, so basically this is broader exceptions to the original rule. So it's not back to fully normal but it is allowing visitation, which is important."
According to DeSantis, the following visitation guidelines must be followed:
- All visitors have to wear PPE and pass a screening.
- All visitation has to be by appointment only.
- Residents can designate up to five visitors — with two visitors at a time.
- No minors, at this time, are allowed at visitations.
- No facilities can allow visitors unless 14 days have passed without a positive case — expect for an essential caregiver or emotional support giver.
The guidelines will likely be put into effect on Tuesday, but it will be up to each facility to be ready to abide by the rules, DeSantis added.
Long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, have been closed to visitors since the coronavirus pandemic started early this year.
Watch the full roundtable discussion below:
"There are restrictions. Some of them people are not gonna like. For the general visitation, there is the 6-feet social distancing requirement. That does not apply to the essential caregivers. So for the people that are most important, they will be able to hug and touch and I find that to be so important. But for the general visitation we need to prove to them that this is safe and that we can do this responsibly," said Mary Daniel.
Daniel founded Caregivers for Compromise and sits on the task force that provided guidelines to the governor on reopening long term care facilities. During COVID-19 restrictions, Daniel took a job as a dishwasher at her husband's long term care facility in order to see him. She said she's now submitted her two weeks' notice.
"There are so many other states out there that are not allowing any visitation so I mentioned today with Governor Desantis, this really provides a blueprint for people, a road map to actually see what we’re doing and watch it work with us that they’ll be able to implement it as well and follow our lead," she said.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management issued the emergency order Tuesday evening, saying it would be implemented in the upcoming days, while facilities implement new procedures to comply with it.
The department breaks down the rules:
The Emergency Order requires all visitors to wear PPE pursuant to the most recent CDC guidelines, and those not making physical contact still must wear a mask. Per the Emergency Order, to accept general visitors, the facility must meet the following:
- No new facility-onset of resident COVID-19 cases within 14 days other than in a dedicated wing or unit that accepts COVID-19 cases from the community;
- If a staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the facility must immediately cease all indoor and outdoor visitation in the event that staff person was in the facility in the 10 days prior to the positive test;
- Sufficient staff to support management of visitors;
- Adequate PPE for facility staff;
- Adequate cleaning and disinfecting supplies; and
- Adequate capacity at referral hospitals for the facility.
Every facility must continue to prohibit the entry of any individual to the facility except in the following circumstances:
- Family members, friends and individuals visiting residents in end-of-life situations;
- Hospice or palliative care workers caring for residents in end-of-life situations;
- Any individual or providers giving necessary health care to a resident, provided that such individuals or providers comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for PPE, are screened for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 prior to entry and comply with all infection control requirements of the CDC and the facility;
- Facility staff and residents;
- Attorneys of Record for a resident in an Adult Mental Health and Treatment Facility or forensic facility for court related matters if virtual or telephonic means are unavailable;
- Public Guardians, Professional Guardians and their professional staff as defined in Florida Statue 744;
- Representatives of the federal or state government seeking entry as part of their official duties;
- Essential caregivers and compassionate care visitors; and
- General visitors under specific criteria set forth under the Emergency Order.
Some families have not seen their loved ones since March.
"I miss her so much and she has dementia so it makes it even worse because we worry about my sister and I. We worry about if we’re ever gonna see her again and all of that too," said Lisa Kuehl.
Kuehl said her mother is in an assisted living facility in Palm Harbor. She said during this time, her mother hasn't been able to walk the halls, is mostly confined to her room and her health has declined. So after hearing today's news, she said her first call was to the facility.
"I was told that we could sit in the courtyard and see my mother through the window through their door. So you’re still basically outside. It’s a little bit better than seeing through a screen," she said.
Kuehl said she wants to see more, while others described relief and the emotion of learning about the new order.
Amanda Kay, who said her grandmother is in a facility in DeLand, said it brought tears to her eyes. She said she was thankful for the safety precautions implemented, but added her grandmother's health continued to decline due to isolation.
"Our family is so incredibly grateful that we have a governor who is genuine, who cares about people, who understands that yes, there is a slight risk of exposure, but there is a slight risk of exposure from the ones caring for them as well. Those working in these long term care facilities go home to their families, shop in the grocery stores, possibly even have kids attending public school. The risk for exposure is already there, but continued harm due to prolonged isolation is far more dangerous than the possible risk of exposure," Kay wrote in part in a statement. "Words cannot describe the excitement I feel to be able to be in the same room with my grandma again. To hold her frail little hand, to hug her tightly and remind her she is loved and not alone, to pray with her about the days ahead… our prayers have been answered, and we are so incredibly grateful for Governor Ron DeSantis for not only understanding the magnitude of what has been taking place over the past 6 months but for making it possible to be with our loved ones once again."
But for Linda Young, she said she wishes it would have come sooner.
"My thoughts are why didn’t he do it sooner. It’s too late for me. But if anyone has a chance to go in and see their loved one, take advantage of it," Young said.
Young said her mother was in a long term care facility in St. Petersburg. She used to visit through the window but said she was moved to a different wing when she tested positive for COVID-19.
"She was just talking not even several weeks ago and it just happened so fast," Young said.
Young said she saw her mom as she was dying twice; once before she decided to have her moved to a hospital and a second time as she was in hospice. There she said she was allowed to visit for two hours, where she talked to her mom, showed her photos and put the phone up to her ear so her grandson could speak to her.
She said her mom eventually tested negative for COVID-19 but the virus had developed and died from pneumonia.
"I guess all she needed was for me to say it was okay. But I didn’t get to spend time with her, I didn’t get to hug her, or talk to her, see her, that whole time," Young said.
Young believes people should have been able to visit loved ones previously.
"If I wanted to go see my mom, I should have been able to go see my mom. And they wouldn’t let me. And I think that killed her is what it did, besides the virus, that is really what killed her. And I just want everybody to take a moment and be with your family," Young said.
A spokesperson for the facility where Young said her mother stayed, Bon Secours Maria Manor, issued this statement following the governor's announcement:
"Bon Secours confirms we currently do not have any residents who have tested positive for novel coronavirus COVID-19 at Bon Secours Maria Manor and 2 staff members who are self-isolating at home.
We follow safety protocols and guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Florida Department of Health to ensure our facility remains a safe place to work, live and receive care. Our ministry has also established a COVID-19 Incident Command Center that, in alignment with our local and state health department guidelines, helps establish our visitation policies. Now that Governor has approved the nursing home reopening recommendations, we will move at the earliest safe opportunity to implement our previously developed Re-opening Readiness Strategy plan in light of those recommendations.
Until a safe reopening is made possible, we are grateful for the continued understanding and patience of the community. We are also offering a variety of alternate options to ensure families are still able to connect with their loved one through window visits, FaceTime, Zoom and phone calls."
If your loved one's facility is not complying with the governor's order, file a complaint with AHCA here.