Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and senior health officials announced new guidelines for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that include in-person visitation, which has been nonexistent for nearly a year due to pandemic precautions.
“The standard for getting back to normal cannot be zero cases. We can do this safely,” Stitt said.
Deputy Health Commissioner Travis Kirkpatrick said vaccinations play a key role in whether in-person visitation should be possible.
The guidelines say unmasked, unsupervised, in-person visits are recommended only when both the resident and visitor(s) are inoculated with a COVID-19 vaccine.
If one party is not vaccinated, “a mask is required and proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours may be required for access and entry into the facility. Non-supervised contact may occur once those are accomplished,” Kirkpatrick said.
The guidance states visitors should watch an instructional video prior to meeting with residents, which reviews signs and symptoms of pain, and other basic personal care information.
Residents should also sign a waiver, according to the guidance, before any in-person visits.
Stitt and Health Commissioner Lance Frye pointed to the recent decline of cases and hospitalizations in Oklahoma. Frye said deaths among those 65 and older has dropped significantly since December following the start of the state’s campaign to inoculate care facility residents and staff.
“Isolation and depression are very real threats for Oklahomans who've been separated from their loved ones for almost a year now,” Stitt said.
The new visitation guidelines are not required, Frye said, but are “strongly encouraged.”
About 400 facilities funded by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services have not received guidance for in-person visitation. Stitt and Kirkpatrick said the guidance was created to clear up confusion between state and federal requirements for nursing homes.
“All of this is about eliminating barriers, these real barriers that facilities have to allow for reopening and visitation,” Kirkpatrick said.
On Monday, Stitt sent a letter to Elizabeth Richter, the acting administrator for CMS to request a change in federal guidance.
“I implore you to change the current policy guidance on visitation and mandate that access to a resident in these facilities by their loved ones is a priority of CMS,” Stitt wrote.
Read the full letter here: