Bill would require nursing homes to allow ‘compassionate care’ visits during pandemic

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An Indiana lawmaker wants nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities to allow family members to visit residents in compassionate care situations, saying too many of them are locking down unnecessarily.

Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, has introduced a bill that would require health facilities and residential care facilities to allow visitation of visitors under end-of-life and other serious circumstances.

“My mother happens to be 99, and she is in an assisted living facility,” Rogers told IBJ. “When the lockdown came early on, back in March, I was actually very glad because we didn’t know anything about COVID, and I felt that was the best way to keep her safe.”

But a temporary situation has stretched for nearly a year and become long-term, Rogers said, separating residents from their families. She said many families have asked her to help them visit elderly relatives.

Indiana has hundreds of nursing homes and residential facilities, and they have wide-ranging visitation policies. Rogers said her bill, Senate Bill 202, would add some uniformity and allow visits in compassionate care situations.

Those are defined in the bill as a resident’s end-of-life situation, a recently admitted resident who is struggling to adapt to the facility, a resident who is experiencing emotional distress and is not talking or interacting with others, a resident who is grieving the recent death of a family member or friend, or a resident that that is experiencing weight loss or dehydration and is in need of cueing and encouragement.

The legislation would require health and residential care facilities to require visitors under two existing programs.

The compassionate care program allows visitors to help residents who need cueing and encouragement when it compares to feeding or drinking and other daily tasks.

The essential care program allows visitors to help residents with dressing, brushing their teeth and other tasks.

“Very few facilities are actually utilizing these programs,” Rogers said. “And so the legislation that I have essentially requires the facilities to participate in programs that are already in place.”

Under her bill, during a public health emergency or similar crisis, a facility would be required to allow visits by family member, legal representatives or essential caregivers, regardless of visitation restrictions, in compassionate care situations.

“I feel that this is kind of a first step in getting families into the facility to do the things that they were doing prior to the lockdown,” Rogers said.

Beyond that, facilities would be required to allow at least two people per resident to be designated representatives under the essential care program.

Visitors would be required to abide by the facilities’ safety requirements, including COVID-19 testing and wearing a mask and other protection.

Under federal policy during the pandemic, indoor visitation must be allowed when the county in which the facility operates has less than 10% positivity, has gone more than 14-days without a new COVID-19 case and is not currently conducting outbreak testing (testing of all residents and staff until no new positives are discovered).

In addition, the total number of visitors and movement within the facility should be appropriately limited, under guidelines from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. If a facility is in a county that exceeds 10% positivity, then visitation is limited to compassionate care situations.

Rogers said her bill has won the support of the Indiana Health Care Association, the trade group that represents nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities.

The association’s president, Zachary Cattell, confirmed to IBJ he does support the bill. “The visitation restrictions required by this pandemic have been very difficult for residents and families,” he said.

He pointed out that that Indiana adopted the essential family caregiver program last summer, making it one of the first states in the nation to do so. He said formalizing the program through a law should help with uniformiety of the program for residents, families and facilities.

Rogers’ bill has been assigned to the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee. In a good sign for the bill’s likelihood of getting a hearing, committee chairman Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, has been added as a co-author.

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