SC nursing homes to allow indoor visits, DHEC releases guidelines

SC nursing homes to allow indoor visits, DHEC releases guidelines

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Health officials have released guidelines to allow indoor visits at nursing homes and other long-term health care facilities in South Carolina.

The new guidelines from the Department of Health and Environmental Control also state that in some situations, “compassionate care visits” must be allowed regardless of the facility’s visitation policy.

Compassionate care visits are meant to put the emotional wellbeing of residents first.

For example, if a resident is in an end-of-life situation, showing signs of distress or depression, or grieving a recent family member’s death -- compassionate care visits are allowed.

In other situations, indoor and outdoor visits will be permitted, with some limitations.

First, this decision does not mean all nursing homes will immediately allow indoor visits, but once they meet certain criteria they should allow indoor visits under the guidelines.

DHEC says facilities may not prohibit indoor or outdoor visits unless “a reasonable clinical or safety cause is present.” Those include a facility’s COVID-19 status, a resident having COVID-19 and the county where the facility is having a positivity rate above 10%. A full list of these criteria are in the PDF at the bottom of the story.

That means facilities will be required to offer visitation if it is safe for them to do so.

Each facility must establish its own visitation policy and communicate that with residents' family members. They will also share their visitation status with DHEC.

Facilities must also establish a schedule for visitation so appointments are made in advance of visits. That will allow facilities to stagger visitors and make sure all involved can stick to the guidelines.

As with outdoor visits, indoor visits will still be limited in time (30 minutes) and only two people may visit a patient at one time.

Visitors must allow a facility to screen them for symptoms of COVID-19, wear a face covering, social distance and use proper hand hygiene, according to the new guidance.

A full list of facility and visitor requirements are listed in the PDF at the bottom of this story.

Some long-term care residents will not be allowed to have visitors under the new guidelines.

Residents who are in quarantine due to a recent COVID-19 diagnosis or who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 may not have visitors except in “compassionate care” situations (as described above).

DHEC is reporting as of Oct. 8, 135 facilities are active with COVID-19. That means they will not be eligible for visits except for compassionate care scenarios.

From April 5 to Oct. 8, DHEC has tallied 1,348 resident deaths and 26 staff deaths.

Midlands resident Trish Mozdzierz is the daughter of a long-term care resident. She has been outspoken about her frustration with DHEC and Governor Henry McMaster on the issue of nursing home re-openings but took a more positive tone following the new guidance.

“The best news I’ve seen in seven months. Honestly, this is common sense,” she said.

She said the compassionate care policy is warranted.

“It keeps in front of mind and top of mind, safety first, but does allow for that contact when it’s necessary, and in some cases, it’s definitely necessary,” she said.

DHEC will be requiring weekly reports from each home on how many visitors the home sees. If visitation is not allowed, the home will have to give the department reasons.

DHEC’s spokesperson sent a statement on that policy:

“The public health order and new required reporting allows to DHEC to have awareness of the various visitation statuses of the almost 700 nursing homes and community residential care facilities. This will help the agency understand how many facilities are allowing visitation and help address any barriers facilities may experiencing in implementing the guidelines for safe and careful visitation. DHEC is aware that restrictions on nursing home visitations has been very challenging for families and residents and wants to facilitate safe visitation.”

You can read the full guidelines below:

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