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Nursing home reopening advocates eager for DHEC guidelines

Updated: Aug. 24, 2020 at 6:48 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Lorie Harris got her “word.”

Harris is the daughter of a nursing home resident and, in an August 19 interview with WIS, stated, “We’re waiting for a word from the governor, and we understand that. Give us a word. Give us a word.”

She was pushing for Governor Henry McMaster to ask the Department of Health and Environmental Control to publish guidelines for re-opening.

The governor closed nursing homes to visitors in March to curb the spread of COVID-19 among the elderly and vulnerable population.

On August 21, McMaster sent a letter asking DHEC to publish guidelines for resuming visitations.

Citing public concern, McMaster wrote:

“As expected, this separation and isolation has caused loneliness, depression, stress, and anxiety among residents, and has frustrated those worried about a parent, grandparent or other loved ones’ well-being.”

DHEC’s spokesperson, who said the guidelines will be published sometime in the coming days, issued this statement:

“We recognize that social isolation can have serious negative impacts on the health and well-being of residents in long-term care facilities and their loved ones. To balance the strong desire of residents and their family members to communicate in person with the need to protect these vulnerable residents from COVID-19, we will be providing guidelines to nursing homes detailing the process to allow limited visitation. Visitation will be phased in based on the disease levels in the facility and in the surrounding community. These criteria, phases, and guidelines will be based on the most recent CMS and CDC guidance for reopening nursing homes which include access to resources like PPE and testing requirements for facilities in order to reopen to visitation.

The plan will be ready for the Governor’s review and will be shared with the public next week.”

Harris thanked McMaster and said it was welcome news.

“I immediately texted my siblings and said,‘Wow, look! We may have a word,‘” she said.

She said she is hoping for individualized treatment of nursing homes when it comes to resuming visitations.

“If there is a facility that has a lot of cases but our facility doesn’t have any, don’t stop us because this facility in a whole other town has a lot of cases,” she said.

Harris said she does recognize the risks of visitations but said she trusts DHEC to establish safe protocols.

“I know that I’m protecting myself and being very, very careful, but you don’t know what’s happening. It will be a risk, but it’s a risk we as family members will have to take,” she said.

Judy Leitner is the daughter of a former nursing home resident. Her mother stayed in a facility and died this summer after leaving.

Leitner said her mother’s health deteriorated at the home in part due to a lack of visitors. She said the governor’s letter is a good first step, but more resources need to be put toward the homes.

“Bring someone in there to play the piano, play bingo, or do something. When I went to visit my mother and I saw through the window, the people and residents, just sitting out on the back porch, they looked like they were dead,” she said.

Leitner said visitors who are not family should be allowed in, so those without loved ones in the area can have visitors.

From April 3 to August 20, DHEC reports 933 long-term care patients have died from COVID-19.

Fifteen staffers have also died.

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