Nursing homes across New York state have been restricting visitation in light of the coronavirus outbreak, cutting visiting hours and screening visitors for flu-like symptoms. Now the head of a statewide nursing home trade group says many of them will soon outright prohibit almost all visitation.
Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association, which represents 400 for-profit nursing homes and assisted living facilities, told WBFO Wednesday he expects a widespread ban on all visitors, perhaps as soon as Thursday.
“Many nursing homes throughout the state — in order to protect the well-being of their residents — have already begun to limit visitation,” he said, “and I think now that it is clear they are going to take more affirmative actions to protect the health and well-being of their residents.”
“Each facility is the best judge of the situation and circumstances they’re facing,” he added. “So while the state's not giving a direct mandate ... I think it's in the best interest of nursing homes to limit visitation to the extent they would like to limit it. It's really at the discretion of the nursing home.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday ordered nursing homes in New Rochelle, the city hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak in New York, to stop allowing visitors. However, Hanse said other nursing homes were unsure if they could voluntarily elect to stop visitation. That is until he got an email from a state Department of Health official Wednesday.
“I had asked this question to the Department of Health and they clarified that the governor's Executive Order 202 does in fact authorize nursing homes to restrict visitation and even prohibit visitors,” he said.
A state Department of Health spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday evening.
While none of New York’s 212 confirmed coronavirus cases have occurred in a nursing home, there’s been an outbreak at Seattle-area nursing homes that have resulted in 19 deaths thus far.
Older adults are considered most at-risk to have serious complications from the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19. Those 80 and over have a coronavirus fatality rate of 14.8%, by far the highest of any age group.
President Donald Trump during his national address Wednesday night said his administration recommends against medically unnecessary visits to nursing homes.
At least one Western New York nursing home chain has already stopped visitation. Elderwood announced Wednesday afternoon that visitors will only be allowed at its facilities throughout the northeast if it’s “absolutely necessary” and they get special permission from administrators.
Elderwood, which operates a dozen facilities throughout Western New York, will also screen staff, as well as suspend student clinical rotations, group activities and group outings.
“These measures display an abundance of caution, that we believe are prudent given the impact COVID-19 has had on populations like those in our senior communities,” said Elderwood Chief Nursing Officer Rebecca Littler in a statement.
Hanse said he believes New York nursing homes will still allow families to visit a dying resident. The state of Connecticut specifically directed its nursing homes Monday to only permit visitors there to see a resident who is on hospice or end-of-life care.
Asked how he anticipates families’ reaction to visitation bans, Hanse said, “I think in many, if not all instances, families and friends of those in nursing homes will understand that these safety precautions protect residents from becoming infected with COVID-19.”
He added visitation bans will be temporary. Cuomo's executive order lasts until at least April 6.