​The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) said an initial review of new guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on nursing home visitation is positive news for reopening facilities to in-person visits.

Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive officer of AHCA/NCAL, said, “While we are still reviewing the guidance, the indication that nursing home residents can visit with their loved ones is welcome news that we fully support.”

He noted that it has been nearly one year to the day since visitors were restricted from nursing homes, and now thanks to vaccines, the nursing home profession cannot wait to safely reopen “our doors.”

“Our dedicated staff members have done an extraordinary job filling in for loved ones and adapting visitations during this difficult time, but nothing can replace engaging with family members in-person,” he said. “The health and well-being of our residents will improve thanks to this important guidance.”

According to the updated guidance, facilities should allow responsible indoor visitation at all times and for all residents, regardless of vaccination status of the resident or visitor, unless certain scenarios arise that would limit visitation for:

  • Unvaccinated residents, if the COVID-19 county positivity rate is greater than 10 percent, and fewer than 70 percent of residents in the facility are fully vaccinated;
  • Residents with confirmed COVID-19 infection, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, until they have met the criteria to discontinue transmission-based precautions; or 
  • Residents in quarantine, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, until they have met criteria for release from quarantine.

The updated guidance also emphasizes that “compassionate care” visits should be allowed at all times, regardless of a resident’s vaccination status, the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate, or an outbreak. Compassionate care visits include visits for a resident whose health has sharply declined or is experiencing a significant change in circumstances, CMS said.

Parkinson said the developments from CDC come at the same time vaccine programs are making a difference in the long term and post-acute care setting. He said it remains critical that public health officials continue to prioritize vaccines for long term care residents and staff in order to help facilitate these reunifications.

“After the three rounds of on-site clinics, it is unclear how long term care facilities will be able to quickly access vaccines moving forward,” Parkinson said. “We need the CDC to ensure the vaccine is readily available for new admissions as well as current residents who have since decided to get the vaccine, so they are able to visit with their families per the new CMS guidance.”

A steady, ongoing allocation of vaccines to long term care will also help ensure “we continue to build upon the progress we have already made in reducing COVID in long term care,” he said.

“It is also critical we continue to educate staff, residents and family members, and the general public about the importance of the vaccine, giving them the facts they need to make an informed decision. We launched the #GetVaccinated campaign in December to help in this effort, and providers are committed to increasing uptake among residents and staff," he said.

For details on the CMS guidance, visit https://tinyurl.com/fmy5rwwh.