The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) is re-allowing visitors to nursing homes and long-term care facilities on a limited basis.

Thursday, the HHSC announced limited visitation rules and issued emergency rules requiring additional actions by nursing facilities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  The state has not allowed visitation at these facilities since when Governor Abbott disallowed non-essential visitors in mid-March.

Under the new directives released by the HHSC, public visitation at nursing facilities is limited to outdoor visits only, while limited indoor and outdoor visitations are allowed at long-term care facilities.  Physical contact between residents and visitors is not allowed.

Facilities must also have no active positive COVID-19 cases in residents, and must not have had any staff members test positive in the last 14 days. At nursing facilities, staff will be tested weekly, and any facility previously experiencing an outbreak that has fully recovered must be adequately staffed and following proper infection control procedures.  For long-term care facilities, they must have adequate staffing to allow visitation in compliance with infection control requirements and must use plexiglass as a safety barrier for indoor visitation.

HHSC Executive Commissioner Phil Wilson said this situation is rapidly evolving, and the HHSC is “constantly assessing what actions are necessary to keep residents and staff safe in these facilities”.  He said if facilities follow proper rules and procedures, they can help achieve the shared goal of “reuniting residents with their families and friends”.

State Senator Lois Kolkhorst, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, said this policy shift is “a move in the right direction”, adding that access to family and loved ones is “an important part of every resident’s health and well-being”.

In late July, State Representative Ben Leman was one of over 50 state legislators to publicly ask the state to put a plan into action to allow for limited family visits to facilities.  In the letter they sent to the HHSC, they argued that the consequences of not allowing visits can cause depression and anxiety in residents, potentially leading to failing physical health.  They stated they “will not stand to let these Texans fall through the cracks”.

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