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New order: Residential care facility residents can see loved ones for first time in months

WWMT Grand Rapids/Lansing logo WWMT Grand Rapids/Lansing 4 days ago Callie Rainey | News Channel 3
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On Tuesday, residents of residential care facilities, such as nursing homes, were able to see loved ones for the first time in months due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon signed the epidemic order on Sept. 10, which allowed visitors outside of residential care facilities starting Sept. 15, and was based in part on recommendations from Gov. Whitmer's Nursing Home Preparedness Task Force.

Two Park Village Pine residents, Leroy Crego and Roger Linders, said it was exciting to finally be able to visit with family members outside.

“After had a time with them couldn't do that, it really means a lot," said Linders.

Nursing homes had been a hot bed for COVID-19 nationally and in Michigan. About 8,300 long-term care facility residents in Michigan had tested positive for COVID-19, and more than 2,000 had died as of Sept. 14, 2020.

The director of Park Village Pines, Dave Bos, said it was critical for nursing home and long-term care facility residents to be able to see their families in person.

“Their physical, emotional, spiritual well-being has greatly declined as a result of being quarantined, being separated and not being able to get out and physically move. That has had a more negative impact on our residents then the coronavirus has," said Bos.

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Under the new order, additional exceptions were permitted to Whitmer's previous order, which temporarily restricted visits during the pandemic for the health and safety of residents, visitors and staff at residential care, congregate care, health care and juvenile justice facilities. Residential long-term care facilities include nursing homes, homes for the aged, adult foster care facilities, hospice facilities, substance abuse disorder residential facilities, independent living facilities and assisted living facilities.

“Limiting visitation has saved lives,” Gordon said. “And seeing loved ones in person is important for mental health. Allowing outdoor visits – with proper procedures such as requiring social distancing and masks – is good for residents and can keep everyone safe.”

Other factors in the decision to expand visitation included a flattening of the COVID-19 curve, as well as feedback from families and advocates about how the burden of the restrictions had grown over time. Viral spread had been stable for several weeks.

Local health departments have the ability to stop visitation if necessary to prevent spread of COVID-19 in areas of higher level risk. The facilities are not required to allow visitations under the order.

Facilities must meet specific criteria in the order to allow outdoor visits, which include:

  • No new COVID-19 cases originated within the previous 14 days
  • Ensure the visitation area allows at least six-feet separation between all people
  • Ensure the visitation area provides adequate protection from weather elements
  • Assure compliance with resident protection protocols, by having someone trained in infection control in sight range
  • Permit visits by appointment only
  • Limit the number of visitors during each scheduled visit to two people or less
  • Exclude visitors who cannot or will not wear a face covering during the entire visit
  • Require visitors to maintain social distancing
  • Limit the number of overall visitors at the facility at any given time based upon space limitations, infection control capacity and other appropriate factors to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission
  • Prohibit visits to residents who are in isolation or under observation for symptoms of COVID-19

All requirements are listed in the emergency order.

“The Michigan Long Term Care Ombudsman Program welcomes this cautious step forward to allow outdoor visits with residents of long-term care facilities,” Salli Pung, the program ombudsman, said. “We also appreciate residents will now have access to medical and non-medical services that many residents have not received for nearly six months. By promoting these vital and basic visits and services, long term care facilities can better ensure and address residents' quality of life.”

Bos said the new challenge would be figuring out what the facilities would do when winter comes.

“It’s going to be very difficult for people to visit each other outside. So what is our plan moving forward in terms of allowing facilities like ours to allow loved ones to come in and visit loved ones in our facility," said Bos.

Bos said Park Village Pines would do everything it could to stay open for the sake of the residents' well-being.

Follow Callie Rainey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Email tips to crainey@sbgtv.com.

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