As more Americans get COVID-19 vaccinations, AARP is calling on the federal government to make it easier for families to visit their loved ones in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
"We have heard from thousands of families during the pandemic about the challenges they have had trying to see their loved ones and the many important moments missed,” Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer, says in a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on Feb. 23. LeaMond contends that as vaccinations are being administered across the country, “we believe there is a critical need for an update to the guidance and criteria for in-person visitation to allow more families to safely visit their loved ones.” The CMS last updated its guidance for visits to long-term care facilities in September 2020.
The letter calls on the agency to consider the level of vaccinations in those facilities as well as the access to personal protective equipment and testing needed to prevent COVID-19 infections. “We are deeply concerned about reports of vaccine hesitancy among long-term care staff,” LeaMond says. “Policymakers at the federal and state level need to urgently focus their attention on this critical population to communicate clearly and credibly with these staff about the vaccines.” Only slightly more than a third of nursing home workers who have been offered a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine have chosen to get it, according to a Feb. 1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report.
AARP is also calling for:
- Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to provide clear guidance in advance to visitors about what they need to do to meet with loved ones, including information about infection prevention measures. AAAP suggests that the facilities provide “a simple, easy-to-understand one pager for visitors and a poster in the facility” and make these communications available in the appropriate languages.
- Facilities to make virtual visits a priority. Such gatherings, LeaMond says, “can be an important lifeline for families, friends and residents."
- The CMS to ensure that facilities are complying with agency guidance allowing in-person get-togethers, including compassionate-care visits. “Residents must be able to exercise their rights to visitation, and facilities should be held accountable for ensuring such visits occur,” the letter says. “Nursing homes that do not accommodate visitation in accordance with CMS guidance should face appropriate enforcement action from states and CMS, including penalties."
Dena Bunis covers Medicare, health care, health policy and Congress. She also writes the “Medicare Made Easy” column for the AARP Bulletin. An award-winning journalist, Bunis spent decades working for metropolitan daily newspapers, including as Washington bureau chief for the Orange County Register and as a health policy and workplace writer for Newsday.