COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Long-term care facilities in South Carolina are opening, slowly.
The Department of Health and Environmental Control published its first weekly data set which broke down how many homes are offering visits, and where they are taking place.
Since Oct. 9, DHEC has allowed (and expected) homes to coordinate indoor and outdoor visits as long as COVID-19 safety criteria are met.
Previously, visits had been restricted over pandemic concerns.
The data from Oct. 13 shows 355 facilities are offering visits in some form, 252 are not offering visits, and 86 violated a state health order by not submitting a report on its visits.
It’s unclear what the policy of the 86 homes are.
Only 62 homes (of the 693 statewide) reported offering indoor visits, which is less than 10%.
More than a third of all homes are offering no visits.
DHEC sent a statement about the data reading in part: “DHEC issued visitation guidelines that address indoor visitation on October 9, 2020, which was two days after the effective date of DHEC’s Public Health Order requiring facilities to report their visitation status. Besides the new guidelines, other factors may be exclusion criteria for indoor visitation, mainly the positivity rate of the county. Twelve counties or approximately 1/5 of the state’s population is in a county with a percent positivity greater than 10%, and facilities in those counties may not offer indoor visitation until the percent positivity is equal to 10% or lower. In addition, outdoor visitation has been offered since September 1, and the weather is still relatively suitable to be outside. All nursing homes should allow for compassionate care visits.”
In relation to the 86 homes in violation of the state health order, DHEC’s spokesperson sent a comment reading:
“After today’s reporting deadline, DHEC will impose a civil monetary penalty on facilities that fail to report their visitation status. DHEC has the discretion to issue a penalty amount of up to $1,000 a day for each violation. We can provide copies of resulting enforcement action documents once they have been issued.”
The human consequences of the varying access are playing out.
Columbia resident George Womble’s wife is a resident at a Midlands facility. He said he is being denied all visits, including window visits.
He said her health is deteriorating, and he wants to see her.
“I think I’ve lived with a hope that she would get better. But she’s not going to get better, and that realization came to me a couple of weeks ago. George, she’s not going to get any better, there’s nothing you can do about it, so just pray,” he said.
DHEC’s guidelines do allow for “compassionate care visits,” when circumstances require. It allows loved ones to visit residents in-house to care for them.
The definition of those visits is open-ended.
Womble said he was not made aware of that option until he spoke with WIS, but will be pursuing it.
Midlands resident Trish Mozdzierz’s mother lives in a different Midlands facility, which is only allowing outdoor visits as of this publication.
She said she has been able to use the “compassionate care” clause to arrange for regular in-person, indoor visits.
“I don’t have to call ahead, I just sign in, go through the process and I’ll being going back over this afternoon,” she said.
She said she is cognizant of the risk to herself and the home, so she is taking proper precautions.
As of Oct. 16, DHEC is reporting 1,378 resident deaths from COVID-19 and 26 staffer deaths.
Randy Lee, the President of the South Carolina Health Care Association (which represents nursing homes on a state level) declined to comment.