Department of Health Services Releases Guidance for Safer Visits to Assisted Living Facilities

Posted on behalf of Jeff Pitman on November 24, 2020 in Nursing Homes and Elder Rights
Updated on April 24, 2024

nursing home resident talking to visitor outsideUnfortunately, many of the steps we have taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 have caused unintended physical and emotional consequences. For example, nursing homes and assisted living facilities have severely limited visits because the elderly are at higher risk of dying if they contract the virus. While this has helped prevent many residents from being infected, not seeing family or friends has hurt their emotional well-being.

Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services recognizes this, which is why it recently released guidance on striking a balance between preventing the spread of COVID-19 and helping to support residents, staff members and families of residents.

If facility administrators think they can safely mitigate the risks of allowing more visits, they can follow state recommendations on how to relax visitation restrictions. However, there should be regular monitoring of COVID-19 spread in the local community. Visits can be allowed if there has not been an outbreak in the facility. Visits may also be permitted if an outbreak is contained and visits are restricted to non-affected areas. Visits may be allowed in areas following an outbreak once it has been contained and protocols are in place to keep containing the virus.

Visits for Compassionate Care Situations

Compassionate care situation is an umbrella term often used to refer to situations where the resident is at the end of life. However, there are many other compassionate care situations that do not involve people at the end of their lives. Allowing visits in these situations can be important to the resident’s well-being.

Here are some examples of compassionate care situations where visits may be appropriate:

  • Resident who was recently admitted is struggling to adjust because he or she was previously living with family and cannot see them as often
  • Resident grieving the loss of a friend or family member
  • Resident who needs help or encouragement with eating or drinking and this was previously done by family members or caregivers
  • Resident suffering emotionally (not speaking or crying often) because of the lack of interaction with others
  • Resident with dementia is experiencing a mental decline that may slow if a family member is present

The person who visits for compassionate care can be a family member, life partner, clergy member or even close friend who has a familial type relationship with the resident.

Keeping Visits Safe for Residents

There are steps facilities can take to help keep residents safe when people come to visit. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services says facilities need to be consistent with current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This includes:

  • Denying entry to those with a fever or those displaying signs or symptoms of COVID-19
  • Using alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Requiring masks or face coverings
  • Maintaining social distancing of at least six feet, even during visits (if wearing a mask or face covering is not possible, social distancing or clear physical barriers could be alternatives)
  • Displaying signs around the facility reminding people about infection control practices and signs and symptoms of the disease
  • Cleaning and disinfecting regularly touched surfaces
  • Conducting regular testing of residents and staff as needed

Reviewing Visitation Practices

There are many steps facility administrators should take to ensure compliance with the steps listed above and to ensure visitation policies help to meet the needs of residents.

For example, continually reviewing visitation policies can help to ensure adjustments are made as needed. Visitation may need to be stopped at certain times if there is a spike in COVID-19 cases. While relaxing visitation policies may be possible, facility administrators may want to institute date and time limitations as well as a limit on the number of visitors per resident.

Other steps include:

  • Revising plans based on ongoing resident needs, staffing patterns, availability of personal protective equipment, and local and state guidelines
  • Instructing visitors on how to call for staff members if there is an emergency or if the visitor does not want to randomly move through the building
  • Implementing a self-monitoring system to ensure staff members, residents and visitors are in compliance
  • Developing a policy for what to do about visitors who do not comply with safety protocols
  • Giving clear direction about a resident’s wishes and needs for visitation in the resident’s plan of care

Educating Residents and Families

For example, assisted living facilities should provide information to residents and families about:

  • Protecting yourself and others from COVID-19
  • Actions facilities are taking to protect residents and others who come into the facility
  • What residents and visitors should do to protect themselves, such as social distancing, washing hands, wearing a facemask and using cough etiquette

Has Your Loved One Been a Victim of Negligence?

If your loved one has been injured due to the neglect of a nursing home, our Wisconsin nursing home abuse lawyers may be able to help. We are here to answer your questions in a free initial consultation. There are no upfront fees for our services, which means no risk to you.

Unfortunately, neglect may be getting worse during the pandemic, as nursing home staff members struggle to provide proper care to all residents. Since March, there may have been as many as 40,000 deaths from other causes besides COVID-19, which is higher than the normal average.

Give us a call today for assistance. Phone: 414-333-3333

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