Gov. McMaster, DHEC announce new visitation guidelines for nursing homes

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) — Gov. McMaster and DHEC officials on Tuesday announced new guidelines for nursing home visitation to resume.

“We understand how difficult it has been during these past few months for friends and families to be distanced from their loved ones who reside in nursing homes and similar facilities,” said Marshall Taylor, Acting Director of DHEC. “But we believe the visitation restrictions put in place have helped save lives and have helped protect the health and wellbeing of the dedicated workers who care for these residents.”

The facility must ensure that every item on this checklist is met before it offers visitation:

 Screening of residents for any symptoms consistent with COVID-19 infection with
documentation is occurring at least daily and for staff at the start of each shift.
 The facility has adequate staffing and personal protective equipment (PPE).
 The facility must provide their written plan for limited outdoor visitation to DHEC’s Healthcare
Quality division.
 There have been no cases among staff and residents identified in the facility within the last 14
days.
 For a nursing home, testing must be occurring per CMS requirements before visitation may
begin at the facility. Community residential care facilities (and intermediate care facilities for
individuals with intellectual disabilities who are recommended to follow these guidelines) may
begin visitations before testing is in place, but testing as described in the CMS requirements for
nursing homes must be occurring within 30 days from when these Guidelines for Outdoor
Visitation are issued.

A facility’s ability to allow visitation depends on a number of factors, including but not limited to the following:

  • Existing cases of the virus within the facility
  • Facility’s staffing capabilities and PPE availability
  • Facility’s ability to comply with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) testing requirements.

For those facilities that are able to meet the criteria outlined in the guidelines, they may allow for physically distanced outdoor visitation for a limited period of time.

As of today, there are 90 nursing homes in the state that meet the criteria of not having cases among residents or staff within the prior 14 days, and there are 31 nursing homes that have only had one case in the last 14 days and would hopefully soon meet this criteria as well.

Each nursing home and assisted living facility will need a reasonable amount of time in order to meet the criteria outlined in these guidelines, meaning outdoor visitation will not be immediately available. South Carolinians are encouraged to coordinate directly with facilities to determine when visitation may be permitted and to coordinate visits when possible.

DHEC also recommends that these guidelines be used by intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

These limited outdoor visitation criteria and guidelines are based on the most recent CMS guidance for reopening nursing homes, CDC guidance for COVID-19 in nursing homes, and DHEC’s long-term care facility testing guidance, as well as visitation plans from other states. The guidelines are available in full on DHEC’s website, on the “Nursing Homes” resource webpage accessible toward the bottom of the main COVID-19 landing page.

Since visitation restrictions have been implemented to protect long-term care facility residents, 129 South Carolina nursing homes have taken advantage of the CMS COVID-19 Communicative Technology grant and received funding to connect residents with their family members using tablets, smart phones, and other devices. This grant support provided a way for nursing home residents to see, hear and talk with their loved ones remotely.

“With these new guidelines, the Governor, DHEC, and the facilities that care for our loved ones are so happy to bring those critical connections from cyberspace to an outdoor space, and we look forward to many socially distanced but happy reunions,” Duwve said.

For more information, visit www.scdhec.gov/COVID19.

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