TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Families and lawyers for the elderly in Kansas argue that visiting rules of some facilities need to be relaxed as most nursing home residents are vaccinated against COVID-19, although the spread of the Delta variant is making operators nervous.
A state official investigating complaints against nursing homes and the Kansas Advocates for Better Care, which focus on elderly care, urges the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services to take action against homes that are not open enough. You fear that the delta variant will lead to new locks.
The Age Department says it is working to ensure residents and families have a voice on visiting policies, although some industry officials still see the need to proceed with caution.
The debate shows how operators feel they are still faced with tough decisions after nursing homes were COVID-19 hotspots at the start of the pandemic. It also shows how the fear and anger of residents and families still lingers.
“We’re hearing about the COVID threat and death from COVID, and it’s real,” said Camille Russell, the state ombudsman for long-term care, Tuesday. “What we don’t understand is the pain and suffering, neglect and death that happen when there are no other people in the building.”
Clusters of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes accounted for less than 5% of the 324,000 cases Kansas reported on Monday, but nearly 39% of the state’s 5,200 reported deaths – more than 2,000 of them.
More than 90% of these cases and deaths occurred before May 4th, but they still happen with nine active clusters (as of last week). Meanwhile, confirmed Delta variant cases rose 84% over the 10-day period that ended Monday.
“It’s not time to open doors without guidance,” said Debra Zehr, CEO of LeadingAge Kansas, the nonprofit providers of retirement benefits.
Visitor restrictions, including bans at the beginning of the pandemic, were designed to prevent people from bringing COVID-19 into nursing homes, where elderly residents were particularly susceptible to serious complications.
“Our families – our base – have basically been very, very supportive for the most part,” said Elizabeth Howarth, administrator of the Homestead Health Center in southwest Wichita.
State and industry officials said current home visiting guidelines are dictated by guidelines from federal, state and health officials. The guidelines call for visitors to be restricted if more than 10% of a county’s COVID-19 tests are positive and less than 70% of a house’s residents are vaccinated.
The state said its overall positivity rate was 8.1% on Friday, but it was as high as 11.2% this month. The federal government says more than 84% of nursing home residents in Kansas have been fully vaccinated, while the rate for staff is 55%.
Homestead Health in Wichita does not limit the number of times family members can visit residents per week. But it requires appointments, keeps visits to 45 minutes, and allows two adult visitors per resident.
These guidelines went into effect in March when approximately 90% of residents were vaccinated. Howarth said most of the family members didn’t want to visit her without having been vaccinated themselves.
And she added, “This pandemic train is still coming on the line.”
The Age Department says that by July 13th this year, it had received 40 calls over a telephone hotline regarding the visiting rules of homes without any information. Assistant Secretary Scott Brunner said the agency told homes in December that they need to discuss with all residents what they want and what can be done with visitors.
To be more aggressive against homes that restrict visitors, he said, “We have to weigh more than one consideration at a time.”
Russell said the Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s office received 40 complaints and received hundreds of calls from May 10 to July 10.
“Some institutions may have grown used to being responsible for when residents can receive visitors,” said Margaret Farley, executive director of Kansas Advocates for Better. Maintenance. “COVID is still a good excuse.”
In Ness City, Tatum Lee’s frustration with the rules of the local nursing home her grandfather lives in pushed her to seek a seat at the Kansas House last year. After his tenure, Lee, a Republican, supported a bill to prevent the county-run homes from restricting visits. It did not work.
She is still frustrated that visits to “my papa” are limited to one hour. Lee said family members are monitoring conditions and care in the homes.
She said that last year she had to ask the workers at the local home to hug her grandfather for her when she saw her in the ward. Lee said she and others fear houses will again shut out visitors if there is another wave of cases in the area.
Lee also said that families oversee the care of their relatives and, “It is important to the health of these residents.”
Ken Kennedy, a retired educator, said his mother’s isolation at the beginning of the pandemic at Prairie Sunset Home in Pretty Prairie, west of Wichita, was “the worst part of it all.” In the fall, the home began setting up a personal visit tent in his yard so that he and other family members could see his mother regularly before she died in December.
The home’s administrator, Aaron Kelley, said residents thrived after restrictions were lifted. Prairie Sunset posts regulators’ guidelines for visits on its website, but Kelley said he doesn’t have staff closely monitor them, adding, “Someone is going to give someone a hug.”
“We have to get back to humanity,” said Kelley.
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