On March 13, 2021, it will be one year since state and federal officials banned visits in nursing homes. Initially put in place to protect residents from COVID-19, the visitation ban has resulted in tens of thousands of residents suffering and dying from isolation, loneliness, and poor care. It is time to stop the suffering and open the doors.
We have learned from residents and their families that many residents are losing significant amounts of weight,; losing their ability to walk, stand, and sit up,; getting pressure ulcers, and not being bathed or even having their teeth brushed. Many are depressed and despondent. Residents with dementia are experiencing rapid decline and memory loss, becoming unresponsive, and losing their ability even to talk. The harm is exacerbated by the lack of monitoring, advocacy, and assistance frequently provided by family members. In November, it was estimated that there had been 40,000 excess deaths not attributable to COVID-19 in nursing homes in 2020 as compared to 2019. Consumer Voice's own survey of families found that residents were suffering immensely from isolation and neglect.
Conceived initially as a defense for residents, the ban on visitors, in many instances, has proven to be more lethal than COVID-19.
We call on federal and state officials to immediately:
• Allow every resident to designate an Essential Support Person (ESP). ESPs must be allowed unrestricted access to the resident who has designated them in order to provide physical and emotional support, as well as assistance in meeting the resident's needs. ESPs should be treated as employees of the facility for infection control purposes, including routine COVID-19 testing and the wearing of PPE.
• Allow general indoor and outdoor visitation for all residents in accordance with the CMS Core Principles of COVID-19 Infection Prevention consistent with CDC guidance. Visitation must occur in addition to resident designation of an ESP. Length and number of visits must be in accordance with a resident's needs and preferences but be at least one hour weekly. Visitation must occur regardless of the level of COVID-19 positivity in the surrounding community or in the facility.
Safe visitation and support for residents are possible through proper infection control procedures. Importantly, residents will be reunited with their loved ones after a year of being isolated alone without proper care.
Tell officials of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Congress, your state legislators, and your Governor to lift the visitation ban now and open nursing home doors.