New guidelines allow some visitors at Texas nursing homes, long-term care facilities

People who live in Texas nursing homes and other care facilities may soon be allowed to have visitors again.

The Texas Department of Health and Human Services said it can happen if the facilities have not had any active cases of COVID-19 among staff or residents over the previous 14 days.

The facilities must also be following infection control procedures and test staff members for COVID-19 weekly.

For now, the visits at nursing homes would be limited to just outdoors.

Long-term care facilities could welcome some visitors both inside and out, but visitors and residents will not be allowed to have any physical contact and plexiglass must be in place.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation and we are constantly assessing what actions are necessary to keep residents and staff safe in these facilities,” said Phil Wilson, with Texas HHSC. “By following these procedures and rules, facilities can more effectively prevent the spread of COVID-19 and help us achieve our shared goal of reuniting residents with their families and friends.”

“Access to family and loved ones is an important part of every resident’s health and well-being, which is why this policy shift is a move in the right direction for some of our most fragile Texans,” said Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, the chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.

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The news comes as somewhat of a relief to families who haven’t been able to visit their loved ones in five months.

“It's like we're moving on and he's not part of us right now, and that does make it very hard,” said Deborah Cates, who has son in a supported living center.

Cates hasn’t seen her special needs son, Michael, since March 7, when she dropped him off at the Denton State Supported Living Center after a weekend home visit.

She had no idea it’d be the last time she’d see him in person for at least five months.

“and I will tell you, I've had some pretty ugly mom cries on some days because it is difficult,” she added.

The state has restricted visitors to nursing homes and long-term care facilities since mid-March, so families like the Cates have been limited to video calls. 

“For us, Michael used to come home every other weekend and he would be always home for any holidays. I know other families have their routines as well,” Cates explained.

Cates said they’re thankful the state has released new guidelines allowing for limited visits, and this is a start, but her family likely won’t be able to see Michael for some time.

The latest data shows the Denton facility still has several active COVID-19 cases among residents and staff.

“What I am pleased with is the work of the team at Denton State Supported Living Center are already preparing and trying to make plans. So as soon as we hit those measures, that will be ready to go,” Cates said.

The Texas Health Care Association said the new guidelines mark and important new chapter in the COVID-19 pandemic.

"These families and residents are more than deserving of these new guidelines that allow for limited visitation," said Kevin Warren, THCA’s president. "Many of us could not fathom the kind of prolonged separation from our own loved ones that they have endured, and I am glad that we have finally began to tackle this in Texas like other states."

The Texas Health Care Association is also working with facilities to make sure they have the support and resources they need to make visitations possible, but there are concerns.

“Are the testing resources and the capacity available in Texas allow for weekly testing of the staff? You know, how are those tests to be paid for is this is this program going to be allowed to be done under the contract that the state currently has with the Omnicare?” Warren asked.

As facilities get their visitation plans and supplies in place, many families are anxiously waiting to visit with each other again.

“I have several friends whose parents and grandparents that they haven't seen, so it affects more than just our living center, but hopefully our families will be reunited soon,” Cates said.

Despite the recent change, families and advocates will still be rallying at the Texas State Capitol in Austin Saturday morning for wider visitation rights.

RELATED: Interactive map of Texas COVID-19 cases