MDH 'turning the dial' in long-term care facilities by allowing designated, pre-approved in-person visits by loved ones

Aim is to ease the burden of prolonged isolation and loneliness

Sloane Martin
July 10, 2020 - 5:48 pm
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The Minnesota Department of Health announced new guidance Friday that will allow select loved ones to visit residents at long term care in person.

All but two days since June 21 have daily reported deaths in the single digits, which health officials in part attribute to long term care facilities navigating infection prevention

Gayle Kvenvold, president and CEO of LeadingAge Minnesota, said designating one “essential caregiver” per resident for expanded access and in-person visits is the right next step for the wellbeing of residents to reconnect them to loved ones.

“We will proceed with an abundance of caution because we know we are still very much in harm;s way of COVID-19,” Kvenvold said. “The guidance reflects that continued vigilance with screening, strong infection control and appropriate limitations.”

It goes into effect July 25 to allow facilities time to develop policies around screening, PPE, training and pre-approval. In the “unique case” a resident want more than one essential caregiver, they should work with the facility.

“We turned the dial to allow compassionate visits right away,” Patti Cullen, president and CEO of Care Providers Minnesota, said. “We turned the dial to allow for window visits, then outdoor visits. This is kind of the next step in the progression.”

“It is not intended, as (Health) Commissioner (Jan) Malcolm said, for everyone, that the door’s wide open, come on in,” Cullen said. “We are not at that stage yet until we get widely available testing and other tools like available PPE for everyone, until we get that systematically, we are not ready to turn the dial even further.”

The long term care residents are a highly vulnerable group. More than three-quarters of all Minnesota deaths from COVID-19 were residents of long-term care, but the prolonged isolation has been extremely difficult.

“People are not sleeping, people are not bathing, people are totally refusing...they feel they;d rather be leaving the Earth,” Cheryl Hennen, Minnesota’s state’s ombudsman for the Office of Long Term Care, said.

She used a heartbreaking example to show the toll, explaining how her office helped facilitate a meeting between a couple married for 57 years after appeals from facility staff and family because the spouse with dementia was declining. It marked an improvement in that person, who she did not reveal due to privacy laws.

“It was incredible,” Hennen said. “The increase in positive mood. The resident was motivated, engaged, was eating, was bathing. The point I’m making is this essential caregiver guidance is very significant.”

Other notes from the Minnesota Department of Health update Friday:

-Remdesivir, the Gilead Sciences Inc. drug shown in studies to reduce the time to recovery in seriously ill COVID-19 patients, is no longer a “donated” or free program in Minnesota and will transition to a “semi-commercial” model, Malcolm said.

MDH will continue to work with a medical ethics group about how to allocate the next shipment, which is due next week.

-MDH officials caution people to not leave the house if they are awaiting results of a COVID-19 test. Supply chain challenges are back on the horizon due to supplies being diverted to surging states, officials say. They also discourage people from getting frequent tests because it’s not an “appropriate use of resources.”

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