Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health posted guidance for outdoor visitation at long-term care facilities—but many facilities have still not yet released plans or guidelines for allowing residents to receive visitors. In response, Senator Karin Housley (R-St. Marys Point), chair of the Senate Family Care and Aging Committee, issued the following statement:
“There is a 99-year old woman whose daughters used to visit every day before the pandemic. Now, she hasn’t had a visitor in months, and her health has gone so downhill to the point where she can no longer walk. There is a woman who has refused medication, food, and water so she can begin dying and be allowed to see her family. And there’s a 100-year old woman who will likely celebrate alone.
“Residents are suffering from broken hearts; families miss their loved ones terribly. While I appreciate MDH’s initial guidance for outdoor visits, it has come to my attention that many facilities—even those without outbreaks—are not yet implementing procedures for allowing resident visitation. At facilities where outdoor visits are allowed, they must be conducted in the presence of facility staff—a requirement that is not only insulting to a resident’s rights, but an obstacle for the many long-term care facilities that were already struggling to maintain adequate staffing before the pandemic.
“While the rest of society transitions back to some semblance of normalcy, the ongoing lockdown has taken an intense mental, emotional, and physical toll on the more than 85,000 Minnesotans residing in long-term care settings. These people have done nothing wrong; they have rights, too, including the right to make their own decisions. In May, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued guidance to long-term care facilities for relaxing visitation rules; this week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released ‘reorganized’ guidance for long-term care facilities. With enhanced safety and social distancing in mind, I request that MDH consider the following recommendations:
- Require all long-term care facilities in Minnesota to notify their residents, in writing, of their policies surrounding in-person visitation by Friday, July 3, 2020;
- Instruct facilities to resume limited communal dining and social activities with proper safety protocols, when possible;
- Create a two- or three-day ‘visitation window’ for individuals who receive a confirmed negative COVID-19 test to visit residents in long-term care;
- Allow indoor visitation for residents whose physical and mental conditions make outdoor visits impossible;
- Develop criteria for unsupervised visits so facilities can maintain adequate staffing;
- Require all visitors to abide by proper sanitation standards, including the use of personal protective equipment and social distancing; and
- Prioritize initial visits for residents nearing end-of-life and receiving compassionate care, as well as those experience extreme loneliness, depression, and other serious mental health issues.
“Many other states across the nation are already implementing many of these recommendations. This has been an unbearable journey for so many Minnesotans who just want to hug their loved ones—and I worry that we are standing on the edge of yet another crisis in long-term care.”
Senator Karin Housley represents Forest Lake, Stillwater, and the surrounding St. Croix Valley in the Minnesota Senate. She serves as chair of the Senate Family Care and Aging Committee and is an assistant majority leader.