State relaxes restrictions on senior home visits

Though this is the fourth time since June that state health officials relaxed visitor restrictions, today laid a “road map” for how indoor visits will take place.

Family members visit at a nursing home. (The Waters Senior Living/Facebook)

As Minnesota lawmakers return to the Capitol building for a fifth special session of 2020, and Gov. Tim Walz seeks to extend his peacetime emergency powers for a seventh time, the Department of Health ended a March policy preventing families from visiting loved ones in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

More than 70% of COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota have occurred in long-term care facilities, among the highest in America. In her opening remarks at today’s Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, Sen. Amy Klobuchar bemoaned not being able to visit her 92-year-old father when he recently took ill.

Monday’s new guidelines allow indoor visitations at senior homes with no new COVID-19 infections in the last two weeks and where county infection rates are below 10%.

The new guidance eases restrictions that have been in place at nursing and assisted-living homes across the state for seven months. The facilities barred family visits to ostensibly protect residents vulnerable to respiratory infection. Advocates have been asking to end the lockdown, noting that many elderly people have suffered anxiety, depression, and physical decline since the ban was imposed.

Cheryl Hennen said residents have been isolated for so long they “report they have no purpose left to live,” as seniors die alone without any family by their side.

“Restrictive visitor rules in place at many nursing homes and assisted living facilities are hurting the very people they’re meant to protect, robbing them of both social interaction within their home and access to visits from family and friends,” the Minnesota long-term care ombudsman told the Star Tribune.

The Star Tribune reported Monday:

“In Minnesota, and across much of the nation, the seven-month lockdown has turned many senior homes into small fortresses, with only staff and essential caregivers allowed inside. For months, many anguished residents have only been able to talk to their relatives via remote video feeds or through cracks in windows. Such limited interactions have failed to ease the anxiety of many who suffered from dementia, or those who simply wanted to hug or kiss their relatives, say eldercare advocates.”

Health researchers found that social isolation and loneliness is a risk factor for numerous health ailments, including heart disease, strokes and dementia.

Though this is the fourth time since June that state health officials relaxed visitor restrictions, today laid a “road map” for how indoor visits will take place.