Future of visits for long-term care facilities unclear as vaccine program nears completion

Future of visits for long-term care facilities unclear as vaccine program nears completion

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina long-term care facilities are gaining ground on controlling COVID-19, but their future surrounding visitation remains to be seen.

CVS and Walgreens both report they’ve begun working on the third and final round of vaccine clinics for the facilities.

Both report they’re 44% complete with the third round in skilled nursing facilities.

CVS reports it’s 94% complete with the second round of assisted living facilities while Walgreens is 4 percent into the third round.

Additionally, the American Health Care Association reports an 82% drop in COVID-19 cases among nursing home patients since December nationally.

In light of the good news, viewers have reached out to WIS about their concerns surrounding persisting restrictions on visitations.

As of March 2, DHEC reports 218 of the 688 facilities were not open for visits.

Lexington County resident Laurie Lawhorn said her mother is in Lexington Medical Extended Care and she has not been able to see her in three months.

Currently, the facility is not allowing indoor or outdoor visits per DHEC rules. “[Alzheimer’s] is going to take her. Lexington Extended Care is her last stop. We know that, but don’t keep us from her,” she said.

The facility sent the following statement:

Lexington Medical Center Extended Care is open for hospice and compassionate care visits. The facility is scheduled to resume indoor visits on Monday, March 8.

Visitation is based on two factors:

  • The county positivity rate
  • The last positive case in the facility staff or resident must be more than 14 days ago.

Lexington County’s positivity rate just went below 10 percent this week.

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Currently, homes are operating under rules released by DHEC and the governor’s office in October.

They restrict visitation if a staff or resident case has been identified in the last 14 days. Additionally, indoor visitation is restricted if the percent positive in the surrounding county is above 10 percent.

If visits are allowed, social distancing and time constraints remain. Lawhorn said a lack of physical touch has been an issue.”I want to hug my mother before she dies,” Lawhorn said.

In a press conference on Feb. 24, Governor Henry McMaster said he was looking to relax restrictions but faced challenges overcoming federal guidelines.

He was asked if her could “override” the guidance and relax the rules unilaterally.

“Well, there are legal complications for that. That’s one of the questions and we’ve been given two clear answers, one is yes and one is no. That’s where we’re at with that,” he said.

His office did not respond for elaboration on Wednesday and the public relations office for CMS (the federal oversight agency) did not respond either.

In a call with journalists on Wednesday, State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell did not give a clear answer on what her view of relaxing state-wide restrictions is.

“This is on a facility-by-facility criteria. So if they have the infection prevention measures in the place, then the facilities are able to demonstrate that specific facility is able to host visitors,” she said.

As of March 2, long-term care facilities are tied to 1,862 resident deaths and 29 staff deaths.

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