PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Department of Health is telling nursing homes and assisted living facilities that it expects them to provide visitation for residents — and health officials will take action to make sure the facilities comply.
For months, the loved ones of residents in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have been complaining to state health officials and legislators that they are being barred from visits, even as COVID-19 infections fall and vaccination rates rise.
Long-term care facilities had been an epicenter for the virus, which led to outbreaks that killed residents and staff. Nursing homes have had nearly 1,465 deaths, and just under 175 residents of assisted living facilities have died, according to state Health Department data.
While those outbreaks have subsided — fewer than 25 total cases reported in the last two weeks — and facilities were allowed to resume visits, the reality has been a patchwork of compliance.
In a memo sent to administrators of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities on Monday, Health Associate Director Steve Morris said that some facilities have said that visits are going well. In a recent survey, 88 long-term care facilities said they provided a total of 3,119 visits from March 7 to March 14.
However, Health is also hearing complaints from the families and friends of residents. Visits are either restrictive or scheduled far in advance and canceled on a moment’s notice. Family members are mostly not allowed to help with their loved ones’ care, even though Governor Gina Raimondo said in December that facilities can allow these essential caregivers. Some have told legislators about not being allowed in as their loved ones are dying.
In the memo, Morris reminded the facilities of state and federal regulations establishing the rights of residents regarding in-person visitation. Health has also issued guidance on visits and expects that the facilities will provide visitation, he wrote.
“Such responsiveness must include accommodating each visitation request, consistent with resident preferences, in the same week that the request is made,” Morris wrote in his memo. “RIDOH is prepared to take regulatory action to ensure visitation compliance in all Rhode Island long-term care facilities.”
Meanwhile, legislation in the House and Senate to require the Health Department to set rules and regulations to designate essential caregivers during an emergency declaration has been held for further study. Other states have already enacted similar legislation.
Amanda Milkovits can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.
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