Families with loved ones in NC long-term care facilities call on health officials to ease visiting restrictions


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Advocacy groups and families with loved ones in long-term care facilities are calling on health officials to ease restrictions for them.

According to a new report from The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, nursing homes have seen the lowest number of new COVID-19 cases since May 2020, suggesting that vaccinations are working.

“There are still plenty of people who are being held at arm’s length with window visits which are basically worthless,” said Bob Willson.

Willson’s wife of more than 50 years, Sue, is in a skilled nursing facility.  Willson says he wasn’t allowed to inside the facility for seven months.  During that time, his wife’s physical and mental abilities declined, he believes, due to isolation.

“She sits in a wheelchair 16-17 hours a day. She’s basically lost all the strength in her legs,” he said.

Since October, Willson has been allowed in to see his wife daily through “compassionate care” visits.  However, he says most the other 600 members of his support group, NC Caregivers for Compromise, haven’t been allowed that option. 

As more residents and staff in long term care facilities received COVID-19 vaccine, Willson says he’d like the restrictions to be eased.

“Why should my wife’s facility basically remained locked down where she can’t come out, I can come in under limited restrictions,” said Willson.

The AHCA and NCAL is also calling on health officials to review its current restrictions on visitors and group activities.

“With millions of residents and caregivers now fully protected thanks to the vaccines, residents must be able to safely reengage in meaningful activities and be reunited with their loved ones,” said AHCA/NCAL President and CEO, Mark Parkinson, in a statement.

Both CVS and Walgreens, which administer vaccine to LTC facilities through a federal program, are beginning final vaccine clinics in those facilities in North Carolina.  

Wake County Public Health is also providing vaccine to more than 120 long term care facilities.

“Here in this week, next week and the following week we do those second doses,” said Ryan Jury, Wake County’s mass vaccine branch director.

However, Jury cautions it’s still unclear if vaccinations stop the virus from spreading.

“The vaccine at this point in time haven’t been shown or proven to reduce transmission. So, it doesn’t put an individual not at risk, it just means that they are at much lower risk from getting severe symptoms and dying,” he said.

Under current guidelines, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says long-term care facilities can have indoor visitation if there are no cases in the facility in the last 14 days, they are not conducting outbreak testing and are following all infection prevention practices. 

According to NCDHHS,  federally certified facilities also must have a county positivity less than 10 percent for indoor visits. A NCDHHS spokesperson says most facilities meet these criteria and can therefore conduct in person visits.

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