On November 24, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued updated guidance regarding nursing home visitation policy. The goal, as always, is to safeguard the health of Michigan residents in long-term care, while still giving them the opportunity to spend time with loved ones, especially at the holidays. While the Omicron variant of COVID-19 arrived in Michigan not long after this guidance was issued, it remains in place. MDHHS took cues for its updated guidance from the recently-adjusted recommendations from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
COVID-19 Nursing Home Visitation Policy Considerations
As we approach the start of the pandemic’s third year, government agencies that oversee nursing home and long-term care facilities are faced with a balancing act. On the one hand, residents of long-term care facilities are typically elderly and often frail, with multiple medical conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19. On the other hand, contact with family members and friends is essential to the emotional, mental, and spiritual health of nursing home residents.
Fortunately, unlike the early days of the pandemic, we now have weapons against COVID-19 that can protect nursing home residents, staff, and visitors. According to MDHHS, about 84% of nursing home residents in Michigan are fully vaccinated, with booster doses widely available for residents, staff, and the general public.
Restrictions Lifted on Nursing Home Visits
If you are planning to visit a loved one in a Michigan nursing home, you should be aware of the current CMS guidance. If you have tested positive for COVID-19, are exhibiting symptoms, or meet the criteria for quarantine, you should cancel or postpone your visit.
Michigan winters generally do not permit outdoor gatherings, but in warmer weather, outdoor visits are preferable, particularly if the visitor, resident, or both are not fully vaccinated. However, at this time, facilities must allow all visitors to have indoor visitation at all times. Even if there is a current outbreak investigation at the nursing home, family members should still be allowed to enter. However, family members may want to consider whether it would be safer to wait to visit until an outbreak has abated.
Even those residents who are in quarantine or on transmission-based precautions are allowed to have visitors in person, particularly if other options such as virtual visits, phone calls, or visiting at a window are not feasible. Furthermore, compassionate care visits are always permitted.
Earlier in the pandemic, nursing facilities placed limits on the number of visitors, as well as the frequency and length of visits. Some facilities also required family members and other visitors to schedule visits in advance. Nursing homes are no longer allowed to place these limitations on visits. COVID-19 testing of visitors to nursing homes is recommended by MDHHS, but is not required. In counties where community transmission is substantial to high, the agency encourages facilities to offer onsite testing for visitors or to encourage them to test outside the facility within the two to three days prior to their visit.
Masking During Michigan Nursing Home Visits
MDHHS says that if the nursing home resident is not moderately or severely immunocompromised, and both the resident and all their visitors are fully vaccinated, they may go without masks during the visit. However, that guidance no longer applies if the community level of COVID-19 transmission in the county is substantial to high. In that case, residents and visitors should not only wear masks but physically distance themselves from one another, even if they are all fully vaccinated.
What if you try to visit your loved one in a nursing home and are told you are not allowed to? You should refer to the current MDHHS guidance. Your first course of action should be to speak with management at the nursing home to ask why they are not permitting visitation in accordance with MDHHS guidance. If their answer is not satisfactory, you may need to seek help from outside the facility. If you need to file a nursing home complaint, you can do so online or via a complaint hotline established by the State of Michigan.
If a nursing home fails to permit visitation, it could be a potential violation, and the facility could receive a citation or other enforcement actions. If you have concerns about the treatment of a family member in a Michigan nursing home, you can also contact a Michigan elder law attorney for advice and support. We encourage you to contact our law office to schedule a consultation.