TOPEKA, Kansas (AP) – Families and advocates for the elderly in Kansas argue that with most nursing home residents vaccinated against COVID-19, visitation rules for some facilities must be relaxed, although the spread of the delta variant makes operators nervous.
State official investigating complaints against Kansas nursing homes and advocates focused on elderly care is calling on the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services to crack down on homes that fail are not open enough. They fear that the delta variant will cause further blockages.
The Department of Aging says it works to ensure residents and families have a say in visitation policies, although some industry officials still see the need to proceed with caution.
The debate shows how operators believe they still face tough choices after nursing homes were hotspots for COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic. It also shows how the anguish and anger of residents and families persists.
“We’re hearing about the threat of COVID and the death of COVID, and it’s real,” Camille Russell, the state’s long-term care ombudsman, said Tuesday. “What we don’t understand is the pain and suffering, neglect and death that occurs when there are no other people in the building.”
Clusters of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes accounted for less than 5% of the 324,000 cases reported by Kansas on Monday, but nearly 39% of the 5,200 deaths reported by the state – more than 2,000 of between them.
More than 90% of those cases and deaths happened before May 4, but they still happen, with nine clusters active last week. Meanwhile, confirmed cases of the delta variant rose 84% in the 10-day period that ended on Monday.
“Now is not the time to open doors without guidance,” said Debra Zehr, CEO of LeadingAge Kansas, which represents nonprofit aging service providers.
Limits on visitors, including closures at the start of the pandemic, were aimed at preventing people from bringing COVID-19 into nursing homes, where elderly residents were particularly vulnerable to serious complications.
“Our families – our base – have been basically very, very supportive for the most part,” said Elizabeth Howarth, administrator of the Homestead Health Center in southwest Wichita.
State and industry officials have said current home visitation policies are dictated by guidelines federal and state regulators and health officials. The guidelines call for restricting visitors when more than 10% of a county’s COVID-19 tests are positive and less than 70% of a home’s residents are vaccinated.
The state said its overall positivity rate was 8.1% on Friday, but the figure rose to 11.2% this month. The federal government says more than 84% of Kansas nursing home residents have been fully immunized, while the rate for staff is 55%.
Homestead Health in Wichita does not limit the number of times family members can visit residents each week. But it requires appointments, limits visits to 45 minutes, and allows two adult visitors per capita.
These policies came into effect in March, when about 90% of residents had been vaccinated. Howarth said most of the family did not want to visit without being vaccinated themselves.
And, she added, “This pandemic train is still going down the track. “
The Department of Aging says it has received 40 calls about home visitation rules on a hotline this year through July 13, without any citation. Assistant Secretary Scott Brunner said the agency told the homes in December that they need to discuss with all residents what they want and what is possible with visitors.
As for becoming more aggressive in cracking down on homes that restrict visitors, he said, “We have to weigh more than one consideration at a time.”
Russell said the long-term care ombudsman’s office handled 40 complaints from May 10 to July 10 and received hundreds of calls.
“Some establishments may have become accustomed to determining when residents can receive visitors,” said Margaret Farley, executive director of Kansas Advocates for Better. Care. “COVID persists as a good excuse. “
In Ness City, Tatum Lee’s frustration with the rules at the county-run retirement home where her grandfather lives led her to seek a seat at Kansas House last year. Once in power, Lee, a Republican, sponsored a bill to prevent county-run hostels from restricting visitation. It has not happened.
She is still frustrated that visits with “my dad” are limited to one hour. Lee said family members are monitoring conditions and home care.
She said that last year she had to ask the workers at the local house when she saw them in the community to hug her grandfather for her. Lee said she and others feared the homes would block visitors again if the area saw another spate of cases.
Lee also said that families are monitoring the care of their loved ones and that “it is important for the health of these residents. “
Ken Kennedy, a retired educator, said his mother’s isolation at the start of the pandemic at Prairie Sunset Home in Pretty Prairie, west of Wichita, was “the worst of it all.” In the fall, the home began pitching a tent in her yard for in-person visits, allowing her and other family members to see her mother regularly before her death in December.
Home administrator Aaron Kelley said residents thrived once restrictions were lifted. Prairie Sunset publishes regulators’ advice for tours on its website, but Kelley said it does not have employees who strictly monitor them, adding that “someone is going to kiss someone.”
“We have to get back to humanity,” Kelley said.
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