Governor Inslee recently announced new visiting rules for long-term care facilities and nursing homes, which will give some families and friends increased access to see their loved ones. We know that people who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are often older adults and people with chronic health conditions—the groups who are at highest risk of complications from COVID-19. Since people live together in close proximity in these facilities, COVID-19 can easily spread within these environments, so protections were put in place to safeguard residents from the disease.
The new visiting rules will include a four-phase plan that is different from the state’s four-phase Safe Start Plan for counties that you may have heard about. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities cannot be in a more advanced phase than the counties they are in (Skagit County is currently in phase 2). Facilities will also stay in phase 1 if the local COVID case rate per 100,000 residents exceeds 75, which Skagit County currently exceeds as of August 26.
The new rules took effect on August 12, and family members should check with the facility their loved one lives in, because not every site may be able to conduct visits right away. It may take some time for facilities to work through the application and approval process with Washington State.
What will visiting look like in the different phases?
Depending on the phase, visiting access will differ. As of the time of this article, Skagit County remains in phase 1 with a high risk level.
Long-Term Care Facilities in Phase 1:
- Indoor visits are limited to compassionate care situations. Compassionate care situations include end-of-life circumstances and for psychosocial needs (ex. distress brought on by the death of a loved one or a sudden lifestyle change).
- Outdoor visits are allowed and limited to two visitors per resident per visit. These visits must include masking, social distancing, and appropriate hygiene.
- Facilities may invite “window visits” at their discretion with safety protocols in place.
- Remote visitation through technology must be facilitated.
Additional Access for Long-Term Care Facilities in Phase 2:
- Adds ability of a designated “essential support person” to visit a resident once per day if the resident is unable to participate in outdoor visits and if remote visitation technology is unavailable.
Additional Access for Long-Term Care Facilities in Phase 3:
- Indoor visits are generally permitted, with limitations. Facilities will establish visitor hours, visitor limits, and safety precautions. Preference should be given to outdoor visits.
Additional Access for Long-Term Care Facilities in Phase 4:
- Normal visitation resumes.
Families should also know that a facility or agency must meet certain criteria before entering a new phase, including a current 28-day period without a resident or staff member testing positive for COVID-19 and having at least a 14-day supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) stocked.
Questions or Need Help for a Loved One?
This can be a stressful time for family members and caregivers. Washington State has established a FamHelp Long-Term Care Phone Hotline at (888) 856-5691 that is open between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. to answer questions about long-term care and other DSHS facilities.