Tennessee will lift all state restrictions on nursing home visitation by this weekend. But facilities are already reining in expectations of families desperate to see their loved ones.
In October, the state had backed off its blanket ban on indoor visitations and allowed them so long as a facility has no new coronavirus cases in the past 14 days. But this still didn’t allow for hugs and has often required testing of visitors.
“Now that vaccinations at all long-term care facilities are nearing completion, we are ready to transition to a more sustainable approach of following these best practices for safe operation of long-term care facilities in Tennessee,” Dr. Lisa Piercey, the state’s health commissioner, said in a statement on Wednesday.
But the reality is, nursing homes mostly answer to the federal authorities who pay most of the bills. And the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services still has some pretty strict guidelines about visitation, that are roughly the same as the state’s 14-day rule that’s going away.
“They’re letting us know real quick — don’t expect any changes by the 28th [of February],” says Joyce Ann Kraner, whose mother has been at an NHC facility in Murfreesboro throughout the pandemic.
The closest Kraner has gotten to her mother is with glass separating them. They still had to use a phone to talk.
The nursing home sent an email to families soon after the state’s announcement about dropping visitor restrictions.
“CMS guidance has many factors, including a county positivity rate threshold that determines visitation eligibility,” the message from NHC read.
The company did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment. But Kraner says she can see why they would want to stay closed to in-person visitors. They could lose revenue if they run afoul of federal regulations.
“I’m not stupid. I know what they’re trying to say,” Kraner says. “But I get it.”
More than 2,500 nursing home deaths in Tennessee have been attributed to COVID. Kraner’s own mother tested positive for the coronavirus four weeks ago, after the state started vaccinating residents. She chose not to get the vaccine because of the potential side effects.
There may be more willingness in assisted-living facilities to restart visitation since they are less dependent on payments from Medicare. But the state is still asking that they follow CMS guidance in developing their own visitation policies.