S.C. families react to change in nursing home visitation guidelines

For facilities like Homestead of Crestview in E. Wichita, the  in-person visitations are a...
For facilities like Homestead of Crestview in E. Wichita, the in-person visitations are a milestone worth celebrating.(KWCH 12)
Published: Mar. 11, 2021 at 9:51 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Governor Henry McMaster and state health officials announced changes to nursing home and community residential care facility visitation guidelines that will apply to the Georgia and South Carolina region.

These changes require facilities to allow in-person, in-door visitation if the facility meets certain standards.

Those standards include allowing visitation when the percent positivity rate in the county in which the facility is located is at or below 10%, there have been no COVID-19 cases among staff and/or residents in the past 14 days, and the facility has maintained CMS’ core principles of COVID-19 reinfection prevention.

“We were thrilled that there was going to be that opportunity because we know until he is allowed visits with his family, he’s not going to improve,” Angel Rice, the aunt of a nursing home resident, said.

For many families, getting to be inside the walls of a nursing home to see their loved ones has been a year in the making.

“You can be away from someone for a day, a week, or month and it will make you sad,” Laurie Lawhorn, the daughter of a Nursing Home Resident said. “But when you are kept from them for a year, that in my opinion is just downright inhumane.”

Lawhorn said she’s seen her mother twice in a year but hasn’t been able to hug her. Rice said she’s only gotten to see her nephew through a window.

“It’s time,” Rice said. “We’ve lived a year of doing this.”

It being time to change the guidelines for visitation is something that Governor McMaster and DHEC officials echoed.

“Too many South Carolinians have been prohibited from visiting their loved ones in long-term care facilities because of overburdensome federal guidelines,” said Gov. Henry McMaster. “Prioritizing the physical health and safety of our most vulnerable citizens is critically important, but we must also protect their mental and emotional health. These updated guidelines represent important progress and will result in many facilities opening for visitation, but there’s more work to be done and we will continue pushing federal agencies to allow expanded visitation.”

“There’s definitely a great need to make sure that the individuals in long-term care facilities are being provided the care that they need, and part of that care is contact,” DHEC’s Senior Deputy for Public Health Nick Davidson said.

However, some families say their nursing homes announced that nothing will change.

“We called as soon as the announcement was made, and they were like nope it’s up to our discretion, and we aren’t going to do it,” Rice said.

“When I read it, I said I don’t think anything will change for us,” Lorie Harris, daughter of a nursing home resident, said.

Harris said she wishes the guidelines clarified whether they could be in the room with their loved ones.

“My mother would rather die being with her children than sit in that room day after day by herself,” Harris said.

Prior to today, DHEC reported that 177 facilities were not allowing visitation. Of those, 43 cited percent positive as the reason but are in counties where the percent positive is below 10%.

“If 177 homes in our state chose not to allow this, I don’t think it’s just because of COVID,” Rice said. “I think it’s because they aren’t prepared for those visits. They aren’t prepared for us coming in after a year of no one being in there.”

DHEC reports 100% of the state’s nursing homes have completed their first COVID vaccination clinic and 86% have completed their second.

DHEC officials said that more than 61,500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been given to our state’s roughly 40,000 long-term care facility residents, and more than 36,700 doses have been given to the approximately 40,000 workers who care for them.

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