After Debate Over Hugs, Florida Task Force Recommends Limited Nursing Home Visits

Tampa Bay Times

by Mary Ellen Klas and Bailey LeFever

Aug 26, 2020

After five months of keeping Florida’s most vulnerable elders isolated from visitors, state regulators on Wednesday recommended that Gov. Ron DeSantis allow nursing homes and assisted living facilities to start allowing socially-distanced visits from family members — but people given special designation will be allowed to hug.

It is just one piece of a two-part recommendation of the governor’s Task Force on the Safe and Limited Re-Opening of Long-Term Care Facilities, which is expected to be finalized in an executive order by the governor sometime soon.

The recommendations end the five-month ban on visitors at homes that haven’t had a new COVID case in 14 days. They also allow homes to do what they already are allowed to do but many refuse: provide exceptions to visitors designated as essential or compassionate caregivers, including in facilities that may have recent incidents of positive tests.

The rules will be optional and not required. It will be up to each facility to decide whether to allow families to visit but, if they do, the facility must adopt policies that “support the safety of all residents and visitors including appropriate training and mandatory use of masks and other infection control protections, screening, and visitor scheduling and management.”

“I think we’re all excited to see families reunited,’' said Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew on Wednesday. She promised that the governor will revise his previous executive order “very quickly” and emergency rules that will make the order permanent will also be done swiftly.

Advocates for families say the recommendations are progress but still fall short of many of their goals, which include the availability of rapid tests for staff and visitors.

The final recommendation ended an emotional series of meetings that often pitted a lone advocate for families against the state’s surgeon general and members of the elder care industry. The debate put into focus the most difficult questions over how to balance risk with quality of life: Families warned that the isolation was leading to the deterioration of their loved ones, while the health experts said they feared the loosened guidelines will lead to more deaths.


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