It is time for Kansas and the nation to revive full visitation rights at nursing properties

Lawyers are calling on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to restore full visitation rights to nursing home residents, writes Camille Russell. “The risk of developing and dying from COVID has decreased significantly, while the risks of isolation, loneliness and neglect remain,” she writes. (Getty Images)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes comments from authors who share our goal of broadening the discussion about how public policy affects the daily lives of people in our state. Camille Russell is the Kansas State Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

Nursing homes have the task of offering residents both quality of life and quality of care. The definition of person-centered care is embedded in the nursing home regulation: Focusing on the resident as a control point, supporting the resident in making their own decisions and being in control of their everyday life. As humans, we all want that.

Lawyers in all states are joining forces to urge the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to restore full visitation rights to nursing home residents. The risk of developing COVID and dying has decreased significantly, while the risks of isolation, loneliness and neglect remain.

Our state agency, the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, has followed CMS’s lead in issuing guidance during the pandemic, not just for state-regulated homes, but also for state-licensed homes such as assisted living and home plus facilities. The guidelines issued in September 2020 and March 2021, while allowing more indoor and outdoor visits, did little to meet the significant needs of many residents.

This is in large part because the guidelines give institutions a great deal of discretion in planning visits, and limit the duration, frequency and location of visits. Of particular concern, the guidelines fail to address those residents who are most likely to be neglected and poorly cared for: residents for whom one or two 30-minute visits per week is insufficient.

According to the state’s Older Americans Act, every state must have an ombudsman program to handle complaints and advocate improvements in the long-term care system.

Ombudsman programs help residents, family members, and others understand residents’ rights and assist residents in exercising their legally guaranteed rights.

Residents often tell ombudsmen that they would rather die of COVID-19 than continue to be neglected, disrespected, isolated and locked in their homes.

Their basic rights have been withdrawn because of their residential address. When they entered this house they were told they had the same rights as any other citizen, but they were not. It took too long. In fact, we have lost people who live in nursing homes to the health and safety measures that were put in place to save them.

We must never let that happen again. It is time to fully restore their rights. They have proven that they will do what is important to them and their neighbors by vaccinating some of the highest populations. They did this to gain freedom and see their loved ones.

We owe it to the residents to respect their efforts. We owe it to them to respect their rights, including their freedom of choice, like any other person residing in our country.

You can help! We urge you to contact CMS officials and ask them to fully restore visiting rights, contact members of Congress and ask them to urge CMS to fully restore those rights, to liaise with Governor Laura Kelly and asking them to weigh themselves at CMS and use your social media to raise awareness among others to reach out to these officials.

Somewhere there was the necessary balance between what is important to people – things that make the residents happy, satisfied, give them a reason to live – and the things that are important to people – health and safety and the feeling of being Belonging to a self-defined community – offering has lost. We need to raise awareness of what person-centered care really means.

COVID-19 has made it clear that the “system” must have extensive training in person-centered thinking in order to appropriately develop and implement person-centered plans that lead to person-centered care.

In addition, sufficient staff must be available to receive this support and care. It is important to balance what is important to people with what is important to people. The further restriction of the right to visit is the wrong message for the administration of the care facilities.

Contact information for a Kansas Long-Term Care Ombudsman can be found on the website or by calling toll-free number 877-662-8362.

Through its Opinion Department, the Kansas Reflector works to raise the voices of people affected by public policy or excluded from public debate. You can find information here, including how to submit your own comment.

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