JEFFERSON CITY – After nearly one year of enduring visitor restrictions and campus lockdowns, Baptist Homes residents can once again receive in-room visits from family and friends following new guidance released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on March 10, 2021.
The announcement of this updated guidance comes on the heels of news that millions of vaccinations have taken place across the country with COVID-19 cases continuing to drop in Missouri.
While not a full campus reopening, Baptist Homes are no longer limited to offering visits outside or inside in designated, partitioned areas. While outdoor visits are still the preferred method of visitation to prevent COVID-19 transmission, under the new guidance, nursing home facilities can now allow indoor visitation for all residents regardless of vaccination status.
At the Baptist Home-Arcadia Valley campus, Social Services Director Melinda Stevens strongly advocated receiving the COVID-19 vaccination and shared that for her getting the vaccine was never about her, but about the residents she serves. She stated, “I have watched for a full year while this pandemic has gone on, the elderly suffered by being isolated to their rooms, wanting and asking to see their families, and I have watched some die alone without family. I have watched some families be able to come in but have to wear PPE and not touch their own loved one’s hands and have to keep their distance. It would break your heart. If the elderly are required to take the vaccine to reopen, guess what I am going to do. I’m doing it for them, and not for me. It’s not about me. It’s about them…to be able to function normally again.” Upon learning that the campus could partially reopen, Stevens was thrilled and said, “When the residents found out they could see their loved ones again, there was a glow in their eyes. A phone call or a card can not replace the smiles and the touch of family. Older people recognize the value of these things. It makes my heart warm and at peace knowing they can see their loved ones again.”
Ozark Administrator Sonya Newton was nothing short of relieved when she heard the news that she could reopen her campus to visitors, even if on a limited basis. “Our residents desperately needed this. Isolation and loneliness were taking its toll on them. When the news was shared with our residents that their loved ones could come for a visit again, it was like a heavy cloud was lifted. The atmosphere was lighter in the entire building, among our residents and our staff.”
Arcadia Valley campus Activities Director Debbie Boswell was close to tears when asked about the reopening. She said, “The residents were not only separated from their families, but they also were separated from each other for long periods of time. They love one another, and they want to be able to sit nearby and talk to each other. They need that close interaction. Being able to interact with each other is such a joy–physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We were able to have Bingo together for the first time in a long time last week. One resident told me, ‘I never liked it before, but I really liked it today.’”
Baptist Homes can allow indoor visits for unvaccinated residents as long as the county COVID-19 positivity rate is under 10% and more than 70% of residents in the facility are fully vaccinated. Currently, all counties where Baptist Homes’ campuses are located are in the yellow, with positivity rates less than 10%, and vaccinations for residents are at 96%.
In addition, the CMS and the CDC have made an allowance for residents that have been fully vaccinated in that they can choose to have close contact (including touch) with their visitor while wearing a well-fitting mask and using hand sanitizer or handwashing before and after. However, visitors must continue to socially distance from other residents and staff in the facility during their visit.
Compassionate Care visits are allowed regardless of resident’s vaccination status, the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate, or an outbreak. Compassionate care visits are defined as visits during end-of-life situations, visits from clergy or lay persons offering religious and spiritual support, and by family members in certain situations.
According to the CDC, nursing facilities should continue to adhere to the following core principles for preventing COVID-19 transmission at all times:
• Screening all who enter the facility for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 (e.g. temperature checks, questions and observations of signs or symptoms), and denial of entry of those with signs or symptoms or those who have had close contact with someone with COVID-19 infection in the past 14 days, regardless of the visitor’s vaccination status.
• Use of hand sanitizer or hand washing.
• Face covering or mask (covering mouth and nose.)
• Social distancing at least six feet between persons.
• Cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces in the facility and visitation areas.
• Appropriate staff use of personal protective equipment.
• Resident and staff periodic, random sample testing.
The Baptist Homes leadership have actively advocated on behalf of all nursing home residents’ religious and visitation rights and will continue to monitor the situation for updates from LeadingAge and McKnight’s, as well as weekly updates from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), CMS and the CDC. Any additional changes in visitation restrictions will be posted on the Homes’ website, www.thebaptisthome.org/covid-response.