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State announces new guidelines for visitation at long-term care facilities

The Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee’s Unified Command Group last week announced three new initiatives to enhance the well-being and quality of life of Tennesseans in long-term health care facilities. These efforts include expanding options for visitation, relaxing restrictions for resident interactions within LTCFs and the formation of the Tennessee COVID-19 Long-Term Care Task Force.

“The health and safety of vulnerable Tennesseans, especially our long-term care residents, remains our top priority, and our comprehensive and persistent efforts to protect this population from COVID-19 have saved lives,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, MD, MBA, FAAP. “It’s time to reunite residents and their families in a safe and disciplined manner so we can better balance the physical and emotional needs of older Tennesseans.”

Expanded Visitation Options
Beginning October 1, 2020 facilities that have gone at least 14 days with no new COVID-19 cases among residents or staff members will immediately be allowed to offer outdoor or limited indoor visitation with residents. These visits will require maintaining strict precautions for the safety of both residents and staff members, including wearing masks, physical distancing, environmental disinfection and in some instances, testing of visitors.

If a facility reports no new cases for 28 days, it will be allowed to offer an essential caregiver program. Essential caregivers are designated individuals who may visit frequently to assist LTCF residents with activities of daily living, such as feeding, bathing and dressing.

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Protecting the physical health of Tennessee’s long-term care residents is the primary concern. If a facility has new COVID-19 cases among residents or staff, these expanded visitation allowances will be suspended until the facility is once again infection-free for at least 14 days.

Enhanced Resident Interactions
Tennessee is also relaxing restrictions for resident interactions within long-term care facilities effective October 1, 2020. These include resumption of communal dining, therapeutic and social activities and visits by non-health care personnel such as barbers and beauticians. As with expanded visitation, these activities will only be allowed for residents who do not have COVID-19 in facilities that have had no new cases in at least 14 days. Facilities must maintain strict infection control practices, including use of masks, physical distancing and capacity limits.

Tennessee COVID-19 Long-Term Care Task Force
The new Tennessee COVID-19 Long-Term Care Task Force is charged with developing and implementing new policy solutions to address immediate and future issues impacting long-term care facilities and residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The membership is broad and includes representatives from the Tennessee Departments of Health, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, TennCare, the Commission on Aging and Disability and the Tennessee General Assembly. The task force also includes representatives from advocacy organizations, health care providers and facility administrators, community behavioral health and LTCF residents and their family members. The first objective of this task force is to monitor the safety and effectiveness of the expanded visitation and activity guidelines and refine them, as necessary.

These new initiatives are the result of many weeks of engagement with stakeholders and partners including nursing home providers, the AARP, LeadingAge, Tennessee Health Care Association and Tennessee Hospital Association, as well as family members of long-term care residents and community advocates

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