Nursing home visits can resume — but many turn away families because they are not ready


Maddy Soriano, center, sits with her two sons Ben, left, and Marc at her retirement community Vi at Aventura on Wednesday. After a six-month shutdown, Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted restrictions on visitations to nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. (John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel)



Family members began calling and showing up at nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Florida on Wednesday to see loved ones who had been isolated for six months.

The problem? Most of the facilities weren’t ready and didn’t allow anybody in.

“Most of them didn’t see the governor’s emergency order until 10 o’clock last night,” said Kristen Knapp, communications director for the Florida Health Care Association, the state’s largest advocacy group for nursing homes.

“While we recognize families are anxious and want to reunite, they need to give us a little time to put policies in place to make sure this is done safely so we don’t put anyone at risk,” she said.

The Emergency Order that lifts restrictions for visitation to long-term care centers, issued late Tuesday, requires facilities to screen visitors, limit the number of visitors allowed, schedule visitation ahead of time, clean and disinfect visiting areas between visitors, and follow other protective measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Essential caregivers who will be allowed to have daily visits must be trained in infection control. No one will be allowed in facilities that have had a new case of COVID-19 within the prior 14 days.

“It would have been good to have more time between the time of the order and when it went into effect,” Knapp said. “It went into effect immediately without facilities being able to communicate to families everything involved. We cannot just open the door.”

Phyllis Robinson said she understands the safeguards required, but wants to see her parents in a Boca Raton assisted living facility right away — while her father with Alzheimer’s still knows her. “I’m anxious to have a real visit and I haven’t heard anything yet about when I can do that,” she said.

“You can’t tell these families to be patient. It’s been six months,” said Mary Daniel, a member of the state’s Task Force on the Safe and Limited Re-Opening of Long-Term Care Facilities. “The facilities knew this was coming, so a lot of it should already have been arranged.” Yet, Daniel, who runs a Facebook group called Caregivers for Compromise and who went to work as a dishwasher in order to see her husband in his facility, said no one wants to rush to open to visitors without precautions. “If they open too soon and we bring the virus in, it would be devastating.”

In Aventura, Renee Garvin scrambled Wednesday to get her facility, Vi At Aventura, ready for visitors. She combed through the 11 pages of guidelines in the emergency order and began to create a plan. On Wednesday, she welcomed visitors by appointment in designated outdoor areas wearing masks and social distancing. Garvin said allowing visitors indoors, including family who will be designated caregivers, will take a few days. “We want to make sure everyone is safe as move we into the next phase,” she said.

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