Nursing homes residents will be welcoming their families and friends for face to face visitation after living under strict safety guidelines for the last year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s very, very exciting,” SPJST Nursing and Rehabilitation Administrator Rowena Tabler-Smith said.

“It’s definitely a big change, and I think that our families and our residents are going to be very happy with it,” Tabler-Smith added.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission updated the COVID-19 rules on March 23, opening visitation to all residents. Fully vaccinated residents will be allowed “close, in person” visits with family and friends.

While Gov. Greg Abbott opened Texas businesses to 100 percent capacity and lifted the statewide mask requirement on March 10, nursing home restrictions have remained in place. Masks are still required for visitation at care facilities, and visitors must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before entering the building. Appointments for visitation are also a requirement at local nursing homes, but plexiglass barriers and time limits are no longer required by HHSC for visitation.

“There’s still quite a few rules from the state for us to follow, so it is kind of a process,” Tabler-Smith said. “We’re not just completely opened back up. There is a process to it.”

Residents that haven’t been vaccinated will still be allowed to have visitors, according to HHSC, but must maintain social distance during indoor and outdoor visits. Residents are allowed to designate two adults as essential caregivers, and these two will be allowed to visit one resident at the same time.

“We believe that the impact to the residents will be a very positive one,” Garden Villa Nursing & Rehabilitation Administrator Teena Daily said. “After a year of not being able to closely interact with family and friends, we expect that the new visitation guidelines will create a much more positive outlook and attitude from both residents and staff.”

Garden Villa currently has 64 residents and 28 staff who have received the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to HHSC, as of March 25. Eleven residents and six staff members have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

SPJST has 29 residents and 25 staff who have received two vaccine doses, according to HHSC, and 31 residents and 28 staff who received the first dose, as of March 25.

Local facilities are currently training under the new guidance and preparing to welcome visitors in the near future.

“To adjust visitation to adhere to the new HHSC guidelines, we are presently in the process of training staff on the changes and implementing the new rules,” Daily said. “We are still asking that visitors make appointments for indoor visits.”

The HHSC’s previous rules did not allow close contact indoor visitation at nursing homes and assisted living facilities for all visitors. This guidance was implemented in September, and before that, all visitation was closed to Texas nursing homes since March 2020.

Facilities with one or more confirmed COVID-19 cases can allow outdoor visitation for unaffected residents under the new guidelines. A resident with COVID-19 can have essential caregiver and end of life visits.

Garden Villa and SPJST have no active COVID-19 resident or employee cases, as of March 11, according to HHSC. Garden Villa has had 77 total resident cases and seven COVID-19 deaths and SPJST has had 24 total cases with three total deaths.

Statewide, nursing homes have 1,020 active resident COVID-19 cases and 252 active staff cases, as of March 11, according to HHSC. Resident deaths total 8,862 statewide.

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