Tennessee nursing homes to reopen for limited visitation June 15

David Floyd • Updated Jun 10, 2020 at 6:17 PM

As he acknowledged an uptick in statewide novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, Gov. Bill Lee announced Wednesday that nursing homes would start reopening to visitors with limitations on June 15.

“We’ve set expectations that specific safety protocols will be followed,” Lee said during a press briefing. “Because while we want to provide for an opportunity for visitation and families to begin to reconnect with their loved ones in long-term care facilities, we cannot ignore the fact these are our most vulnerable citizens.”

Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said the state’s top priority is the safety of residents and staff, but officials want to balance that responsibility with the social and emotional well-being of those individuals. The reopening is authorized by an executive order Lee signed Wednesday.

Under the state’s guidelines, Piercey said facilities will have to be located in counties with “lower disease burdens,” must agree to meet prerequisites defined by the state and accept restrictions and screening protocols for those who visit.

Facilities that choose to reopen to visitors must test all staff and residents at least once and comply with state rules regarding weekly re-testing of employees. Additionally, they must have no new COVID-19 cases in the prior 28 days among residents or staff members and be compliant with Board for Licensing Healthcare Facilities regulations and infection control guidelines.

Nursing homes that allow visitation must require visitors to make appointments before stopping by the facility, enforce social distancing and mask requirements, screen all visitors for symptoms and check temperatures. Facilities should also limit the number of visitors per resident and the number of daily visits per facility.

The state will allow three options for visitation: Outdoor visitation under proper social distancing guidelines, outdoor or indoor visitation with a protective booth or barrier and limited options for in-room visitation, which is available for residents who cannot physically handle the other two alternatives.

In-room visitors must be able to show a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of their visit.

“Please give these facilities some grace,” Piercey said. “They have been under very strict restrictions for the last several months, and it’s going to take them several days or perhaps longer to be able to comply with our strict guidelines.”

Adults over the age of 65 are among those most at risk of serious infection from COVID-19. Nursing homes in the state have been closed since March.

Lee urged people who are planning on visiting a loved one in a nursing home to get a test. As part of a statewide testing push, Lee said all nursing home and long-term care facility residents in Tennessee will be tested for COVID-19 by this Friday. Beginning no later than July 1, staff at those facilities will be retested weekly.

Lee said the state’s case uptick is not unexpected, considering that people are now “out and about” more.

“It’s very important that we follow this information, this data,” Lee said. “Not only the cases we have in the state but the very important data point of hospital capacity, and fortunately our hospital capacity is very stable in spite of this uptick in cases, but we will continue to track that.”

Piercey echoed Lee’s comments, noting that state officials knew this would happen as the state reopened.

“We are watching it very closely,” Piercey said. “Fortunately our hospital resources are stable are forecasted to do so, and we are in continual conversations with the Tennessee Hospital Association and many providers statewide just to make sure we have good eyes on what those resources are.”

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, there have been 27,869 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Tennessee. In total, 18,516 people have recovered, and 436 people have died.