DOH Updates Visitation Restrictions for Nursing Homes and Adult Care Facilities

July 10, 2020

By: Mark A. Mainello and Raul A. Tabora, Jr.

The New York State Department of Health (DOH) has issued revised guidance pertaining to visitation during the COVID-19 pandemic period. The most significant item to be aware of is that visitation and activities may resume, with some conditions, so long as certain standards are met. Please note that the full list of conditions for nursing homes and adult care facilities are spelled out in detail in the respective guidance, found here and here. A summary of these conditions and permissible visitation is as follows:

Effective July 10, 2020 for adult care facilities and July 15, 2020 for nursing homes, visitation of residents at a facility may resume. However, the facility must meet all conditions set forth in the July 10, 2020 guidance. The exact requirements differ depending on whether the facility is a nursing home or an adult care facility. Among other items, the facility must:

  • be in a region that is in Phase 3 of reopening;
  • be in full compliance with all state and federal requirements, including NYS Executive Orders and reporting requirements; 
  • have completed the NY Forward Safety Plan and submitted a copy of the completed plan to DOH; 
  • have no staffing shortages;
  • have had no new onset of COVID-19 among staff or residents as reported to the Department for a period of no less than twenty-eight (28) days, consistent with CMS established thresholds;
  • adhere to written screening protocols for staff and residents as well as all persons entering the facility or grounds of the facility, including visitors; and
  • post a copy of the facility’s formal visitation plan to their public website and broadcasts via email or social media to provide visitors with clear guidelines for visiting and to announce if and when visitation is paused due to an increase in the number of residents and/or staff with a confirmed positive COVID-19 diagnosis. 

Where the facility can meet such requirements, visitation can occur, but there will be restrictions on the visitation. For instance, at nursing homes, visitation should be limited to outdoor areas, weather permitting but may occur in certain well-ventilated areas with limited numbers of individuals who are wearing appropriate PPE and/or face coverings. Visitation is strictly prohibited in resident rooms or care areas with few exceptions. At adult care facilities, visitors must be 18 years of age or older, or accompanied by an adult 18 years of age or older, and adequate staff must be present to allow for monitoring of visitation (including cleaning and disinfecting visitation areas after each visit). Both nursing homes and adult care facilities must also ensure that they maintain signage regarding the use of face masks and proper hygiene, and that all visitors are screened for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 prior to any visit. There are also limits as to the numbers of visitors that can visit at any given time.  

DOH reminds both NHs and ACFs that they “should establish additional guidelines as needed to ensure resident and staff safety and continuity of facility operations.”  On an ongoing basis, the facility must:

  • clearly delineate hours of visitation in policy and within the visitation fact sheet;
  • continue to refrain from sending residents to non-medically necessary trips outside the nursing home until further notice. (communal dining and hairdresser services remain suspended at this time); and 
  • violations of this DOH directive will result in the imposition of fines and additional enforcement remedies.

In the event that a facility falls out of compliance with these requirements, they will need to immediately halt visitation and inform DOH. Additionally, DOH will “halt” visitation at a facility at any time due to community or facility spread of infection, or when the Department identifies that the facility has failed to comply with requirements of this new advisory.

One final item to be aware of is that DOH has updated guidance in reference to access by the LTC Ombudsman. This guidance, available here, states that:

Effective July 15, 2020: To ensure that patients and their families have access to the services of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, such Ombudsman may be permitted to visit a nursing home or its residents subject to requirements for weekly testing for COVID-19, and any such ombudsman must utilize appropriate PPE for the duration of the visit, and must be screened as if they were a staff person of such nursing home, including having to present a verified negative test result to the nursing home within the past week. 

Should you have any questions on this or any related guidance, please feel free to contact any of the attorneys in our Health Care and Long Term Care practices for additional information.