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Governor’s order could be good news for local nursing patients, families

Staff Writer
Herald Democrat
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday, Sept.17, 2020 during a press conference that he would allow businesses to expand capacity in much of the state, citing a decline in coronavirus hospitalizations. The order allows businesses operating at 50% capacity to move to 75% starting Monday. That includes restaurants, retail, office buildings, manufacturing, gyms, libraries and museums. Bars remain closed under the order.

Local residents with family members in area long-term care facilities got the news many have been waiting for on Thursday as state leaders started the process of easing restrictions on visitation at those facilities.

A statement forwarded by the Grayson County Office of Emergency Management said that Governor Greg Abbott has directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to make some changes in reopening procedures for eligible nursing, assisted living and intermediate care facility.

The new plan is “...to expand visitation options for eligible nursing, assisted living, and intermediate care facilities, home and community-based service providers, and inpatient hospice, effective Thursday, Sept. 24. HHSC’s updated emergency rules will allow a designated essential caregiver to provide supportive, hands-on care to facility residents who do not have COVID-19.”

Under the new rules, residents will be allowed to designate up to two essential family caregivers who will be provided necessary training to allow them to safely go inside a facility for a scheduled visit, including in the resident’s room, to help ensure their loved one’s physical, social and emotional needs are being met. Designated caregivers will not be required to maintain physical distancing, but only one caregiver can visit a resident at a time.

Local nursing homes are already planning for the new guidances.

“We are going to follow whatever orders the governor sends down,” said Homestead of Sherman Administrator Larry Ballou Friday morning.

"Our residents are pleased,” he added before declining to answer any further questions about the changes.

Grayson County’s Office of Emergency Management Director Sarah Somers said that office is, “committed to continued support to these extremely vulnerable folks and the heroes who have been providing for all of their needs this year. Let’s all do our part as we reunite with loved ones.”

“It is critical to the health of residents that we provide opportunities wherever possible for families to reunite, while continuing to take all necessary precautions to prevent the spread of disease,” said HHS Executive Commissioner Cecile Erwin Young in that statement released announcing the order. “Safely visiting with family and friends is the best medicine and most reassuring act we can provide for our most fragile Texans during these challenging times.”

Other changes include allowing a long-term care facility resident (or legal representative) to designate the essential caregiver, who can be a family member, friend or other individual. Facilities are required to train essential caregivers on the proper use of personal protective equipment and other infection control measures. Proper PPE must be used at all times during these scheduled visits, and the caregiver must test negative for COVID-19 within the previous 14 days before the initial visit.

For general visitors who are not a designated essential caregiver, the updated rules will allow approved nursing facilities scheduled indoor visitation with the use of plexiglass safety barriers to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Physical contact between residents and general visitors is not permitted under the new rules. Facilities also must continue to meet all additional visitation requirements outlined in the emergency rules.

Long-term care facilities, including nursing facilities and intermediate care facilities, that serve residents without COVID-19 but also have dedicated COVID-19 isolation units will be eligible for outdoor and indoor general visitation with plexiglass barriers. This visitation is only allowed for residents who are COVID-negative and must be held outdoors or in a COVID-free area of the facility. Facilities previously were required to be entirely COVID free to allow outdoor or indoor visitation.