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Florida families may take long-term care residents home for the holidays, state says

The state emailed long-term care facilities Wednesday night offering clarity to its latest visitation rules, which it updated on Oct. 22.

Florida residents of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities may go home with family members or friends for the holidays this year, according to loosened coronavirus restrictions outlined by the state Agency for Health Care Administration. In an email sent to long-term care facilities Wednesday night, the agency also clarified visitation rules announced two weeks ago by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The email answered questions about the state’s mandatory Oct. 22 order, which loosened restrictions for a second time on visits to long-term care facilities. The restrictions were first instituted in March to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Some families had said the new rules were confusing, and they were still being kept from their loved ones.

The state now has two categories of visitors. Facilities can give “compassionate caregiver" status to frequent visitors, which allows them to spend time with a resident in his or her room. General visitors must meet with residents in community areas of the facility. Facilities must provide reasonable hours for visitation that take into consideration visitors' availability, the email said.

"The order did not eliminate any flexibilities previously had,” the agency wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

The new rules made adjustments to those issued Sept. 1. Even if a facility has a positive coronavirus case, general visitors can now meet with residents outdoors. Children may now visit residents. And each home may decide the number of visitors allowed at one time.

About a dozen people who visit care facility residents had posted on the Caregivers for Compromise Facebook group over the past two weeks, expressing confusion over the latest order. Some caregivers, who should have been allowed inside, said they were kept outside if a facility had a positive coronavirus case. Others said they were allowed to visit fewer times per week than before.

Mary Daniel runs the Facebook group. The Jacksonville woman drew national attention this summer for becoming a dishwasher at her husband’s facility so she’d be allowed to visit him. Wednesday’s fact sheet answered questions that Daniel said she posed to the state on Monday, reflecting loved ones' concerns.

Daniel posted on Facebook Thursday, reminding the group to be careful if they choose to take their loved ones home over the holidays.

“This holiday season will not be the same as years before, but at least we can have them home,” she said.

Kristen Knapp is spokesperson for the Florida Health Care Association, a trade group representing 516 of the state’s approximately 700 nursing homes. She said she’s getting good feedback on the new rules from care facility administrators.

She hasn’t heard of any facilities that aren’t opening according to the new rules, she said Wednesday. Knapp reminded families who take residents home to take proper safety precautions, such as wearing masks and using hand sanitizer.

Michael Phillips, the state’s long-term care ombudsmen, has heard from families since the latest rule change who were struggling to visit their loved ones and from residents frightened that the more open visitation rules could allow the coronavirus into their homes. Most facilities have honored the visitation order, Phillips said, but some families have had scheduling problems or weren’t able to see a resident for as much time as they want to.

Many families are excited to take their loved ones home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, he said, but they also must realize that residents who fail the facility’s coronavirus screening when they return must quarantine for 14 days in their facilities.

“It is good for them to be around family and so forth, but understand what the effects of that will be when they go back into isolation,” Phillips said. “That can be traumatic and harmful to the residents.”

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