S.C. families frustrated as nursing home visits remain limited

Published: Feb. 22, 2021 at 10:29 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Visitation at nursing homes and long-term care facilities remains closed or limited at many facilities across the state, despite many families saying their loved one at a facility has received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Two women who have loved ones in nursing homes told WIS it’s been a frustrating and heartbreaking few months not being able to see their loved ones or get information on when visitation might reopen.

“I just want to make the best out of the most horrible situation,” said Bille Mahon, the mother of a nursing home resident in Greenville.

Mahon said she works in the kitchen of the nursing home her son has been at since October, but she isn’t allowed to go and see him.

“It defies logic,” Mahon said. “We have both been vaccinated, it’s been the full vaccination and 14 days, I get COVID tested twice a week, and wear PPE when I go in the building.”

She said as a family member, the nursing home will allow an outdoor visit if there are no positive cases at the facility for 14 days.

“It’s almost always canceled because if someone who works there has COVID they shut it down for 14 days,” Mahon said.

Robin Willougby said she’s had a similar experience and has only gotten to see her aunt once in the last year.

“It looks like they have been forgotten, and nobody is being their voice and speaking for them,” Willoughby said.

She said that her aunt had received the first round of the COVID-19 vaccine, but tested positive in the last few weeks for the virus.

“It’s been very disappointing because we’re still not able to go in, and I don’t know if it’s been mandatory for all the staff at the facility to have the vaccine, so you’ve got your residents vaccinated, but you’ve still got other people on staff that’s not,” Willoughby said.

DHEC officials said during a media briefing last week that visitation isn’t based on vaccinations.

“The nursing homes are required to follow the CMS guidelines for visitation, and they don’t use vaccination rates as the criteria; they use the disease burden in the community,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services guidance was issued in September. It includes that visitation should only be allowed if there have been no new COVID cases in the last 14 days at the facility and the county positivity rate is below 10%.

The CMS guidelines also say long-term care facilities must require temperature checks, face coverings, and social distancing, along with other protocols, when visitation is allowed.

DHEC officials said on Friday that not all residents have gotten their second dose. They say they are in the process of making their second round visits to all the facilities, and that the guidance surrounding visitation will likely be updated once vaccinations are complete.

As of Monday, DHEC officials said about 27,300 long-term care facility residents have received their first shot, and about 27,150 have received their second shot.

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