Renee Beniak, executive director of the Michigan County Medical Care Facilities Council (MCMCFC), joined other health leaders on Wednesday to testify on nursing home visitation policies before the House Health Policy Committee at the invitation of Rep. Bronna Kahle (R-Lenawee), chair of the committee.
Beniak explained the frustrations facilities face, and manage, each day as state-set daily risk levels determine facility visitation practices. When risk levels drop and facilities begin a process to open for safe visitation, families are notified, but within a day, a single positive case can bring everything to a halt. Facilities then must turn away families and disappoint residents, leaving them frustrated and upset. The residents’ frustrations are often passed on to the nursing staff, making it even more difficult to provide care in facilities that were short-staffed even before COVID.
“It is time to rethink visitation policies and safely reconnect residents with family members,” Beniak said. “With the overwhelming majority of residents having received both vaccines, now is the time to relieve the tremendous burden that severely restricted visitation requirements have placed on our residents, families and staff. Our nurses and CNA staff have witnessed firsthand the physical and mental toll the extended isolation has taken on their residents, despite their best efforts to support alternate ways to connection them with family and friends over many months.”
Witnesses urged state leaders to begin considering a risk-benefit analysis to contracting COVID versus the psychological and physical consequences endured by residents with no or limited visitations. With all medical care facilities (MCFs) with a 90 percent vaccination rate, and routine precautionary measures in place, visitation restrictions should be lifted.
Beniak added there is a cost to this as well. Recently, one patient and their family specifically chose to stay longer in a hospital, rather than moving to a nursing facility for rehabilitation, because they will be allowed to visit their loved one in the hospital. Some hospitals offer this option because they have what is referred to as a “swing bed,” which changes a hospital bed into a nursing home bed. The swing bed, however, can cost 300 percent or 400 percent of the cost of a day of care in an MCF.
David Gehm, president of Wellspring Lutheran Services, told the committee that states like Indiana and Minnesota have visitation models that follow CDC guidance with some local adaptations.
Full video of the committee testimony can be found here.