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No guidelines in place yet for families of nursing home residents to be reunited

HOUSTON – Nursing homes account for nearly half of all COVID-related deaths in the U.S. The solution in Texas was shutting them down to non-emergency visitors. No families or friends of any kind can be by their side.

That's adding to this vulnerable population's already fragile sense of isolation.

Gov. Abbott also required all residents and staff have access to COVID-19 testing.

Despite it all, the Texas reopening guidelines state people are still asked to avoid nursing homes, state-supported living centers, assisted living facilities, or long-term care facilities.

I asked the Texas Health and Human Services when families can be reunited and they replied with this link and comment:

“We have issued a comprehensive response plan for nursing facilities and other long-term care providers, hosted dozens of webinars with providers, and answered FAQs: https://hhs.texas.gov/doing-business-hhs/provider-portals/long-term-care-providers/nursing-facilities-nf. HHSC also has encouraged facilities to implement a communication plan to help families, residents, and others stay informed and connected, noting they are legally obligated to maintain privacy and HIPAA protections.”

When asked if this means, there’s no plans yet to allow family members inside to see residents. Texas HHS said to check back for updates.

Doctors like Carmel Dyer with UT Health said this population can suffer in isolation.

“It’s been well known for many, many years that social isolation is a problem for older adults. Specifically, I’m seeing it effect their memory and mood,” Dyer said.

The only real glimmer of hope is a recommendation from The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that tells facilities to have these things before loosening restrictions:

  • No new COVID-19 cases for 28 days
  • No staff shortages
  • PPE and cleaning supplies in the building
  • And adequate access to COVID-19 testing

So far, no such guidelines specifically exist for Texas.

So, until then, experts agree one of the best things you can do for your family members is to write letters. The older generations love that personal touch.

“Write a postcard, write a note, it will come to them in the mail,” Dr. Dyer recommended. “The other thing about written letters, they can take it out and read it over and over again.”