5 questions to ask before visiting a nursing facility or assisted living home
August 1, 2020
On June 30, 2020, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) issued guidance documents to nursing facilities and assisted living homes on the critical issue of how to re-establish in-person visitation for all residents living in long-term care (LTC) facilities. Given the devastating number of deaths COVID-19 has caused in other states, AARP Alaska is concerned about the 830 Alaskans living in nursing facilities and the 2,743 Alaskan seniors living in assisted living homes. AARP’s overarching goal is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of Alaskan’s loved ones who live in long-term care facilities.
Social interaction with family and friends is critical to the overall wellbeing of all long term care residents. Residents and their families have been struggling during the past several months as in-person visitation in long term care facilities has been prohibited. In addition to the social connectivity and emotional support they provide, visitors also carefully monitor their loved one’s health status and are often the first line of defense in identifying key issues of concern to facility staff. Nursing facilities and assisted living homes are now working toward allowing in-person visits for families in Alaska as COVID-19 restrictions ease. These visits will be different from before the pandemic, at least for a while. There may be limits on when, where and for how long you can see loved ones. Physical distancing rules will also be in place.
AARP has developed some key questions to ask facilities — and yourself — about when and how visitation might resume.
1. What is the facility doing to help make it safe for visitors to come back?
Has the facility met the State of Alaska guidelines for allowing visitors?
Has it gone at least 28 days without a new COVID-19 case?
Are cases declining in the surrounding community?
Have all residents and staff been tested for COVID-19?
Does the facility have enough staff?
Are there adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and disinfecting products?
Are there plans to permit outdoor visits before allowing indoor visits?
2. What kinds of health checks will be required for visitors?
Is the facility following federal guidelines for visitor screening, including:
Checking visitors’ temperatures?
Asking about COVID-19 symptoms and potential exposure?
Observing visitors for any symptoms or signs of infection?
3. Are visits restricted by time and place?
Do I need to make an appointment with the facility to visit a loved one?
Will visiting hours be restricted, or individual visits time-limited?
Can I request a schedule for when I can visit my loved one on a regular basis?
Can I go to my loved one’s room, or are visits limited to designated areas inside (or outside) the facility?
Can more than one person visit a resident at a time?
4. What protective and social-distancing measures are in place, in accordance with federal guidelines?
Do I have to wear a mask? Will the facility provide one for me?
Is hand sanitizer available on-site, or do I need to bring my own?
Do I have to stay 6 feet from my loved one?
Can I bring food or gifts for my loved one?
5. Are you doing everything possible to minimize risks to residents?
Do not visit if you feel ill, even if the symptoms are mild.
Do not visit if you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19 in the previous two weeks.
Keep visits short — and stay outdoors, if possible.
Consider a virtual visit instead.
If you are denied a visit with your loved one, call the Long Term Care Ombudsman 1-800-730-6393 or file a complaint online at https://akoltco.org/.
To review the DHSS guidance documents yourself click on these links:
Nursing Facility visitation guidelines: http://manuals.medicaidalaska.com/docs/dnld/Update_Reopening_Skilled_Nursing_Facilities_Guidelines.pdf
Assisted Living Home visitation guidelines: http://manuals.medicaidalaska.com/docs/dnld/Update_Reopening_Congregate_Residential_Settings_Guidelines.pdf
AARP has some resources to assist those with family members living in long term care facilities:
AARP Nursing Homes Information: http://www.aarp.org/nursinghomes
AARP Coronavirus Information: http://www.aarp.org/coronavirus
AARP Caregiving COVID-19 Tip Sheets: http://www.aarp.org/employercaregiving
AARP Caregiving Resource Center & Family Caregiver Support Line (English): http://www.aarp.org/caregiving or call 877-333-5885
Teresa Holt is the AARP Alaska state director.