Doug Ducey headshot
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey

Assisted living and nursing home operators in Arizona have until this Friday to develop written policies addressing visitation limits, screening process and visiting locations, as well as share those policies with families and residents.

The deadline comes after a state task force came up with guidelines for visitation to resume at such facilities in the state.

The Task Force on Long-Term Care, created by Gov. Doug Ducey in July, approved recommended guidelines last week that set up two ways for visits to resume at long-term care facilities: through a phased approach based on a county’s COVID-19 transmissions, and through indoor visits as long as visitors test negative for COVID-19 within 48 hours before a visit.

The guidance was posted on the Arizona Department of Health Services website on Friday.

Rocky McKay, president of the Arizona Assisted Living Homes Association, noted that it is difficult to find a “perfect solution” but that the task force process was a good one.

“I like that we had the process. Everyone was able to voice their opinions and concerns from family members to operators to lawmakers,” he told McKnight’s Senior Living. “But everybody did agree this is a good starting point.

“We all want family members to come in and see their loved ones, but how do you do it safely?”

The task force plans to meet in mid-September to review progress and make adjustments if necessary, according to Dave Voepel, CEO of the Arizona Health Care Association.

Karen Barno, president and CEO of the Arizona Assisted Living Federation of America, called the task force process “collaborative.”

“The family members really helped the conversation,” she told McKnight’s Senior Living. “I think it was also good for the families to know the providers want these buildings open. They are a key part of the care team for their loved ones.”

Barno said the guidelines are just that — guidelines— and each community will have to draw up its own policies and procedures.

“I think these are good recommendations, and they just create a win-win for everybody,” Barno said. 

The guidelines allow reopening in phases, depending on the transmission of the virus by county. Counties are classified as having “substantial,” “moderate” or “minimal” community spread, with visitor restrictions gradually easing as there are fewer cases and fewer positive tests.

Family members who want to visit a loved one sooner must present a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of a visit, and sign a document indicating they self-isolated between the time of the test and their visit. Visitors will be required to wear masks and observe social distancing. 

Families will be expected to pay the cost of the test, but the governor’s office indicated there are free COVID-19 tests offered by government agencies, community health clinics and other organizations. 

The task force is composed of state government officials, legislators, family members, AARP Arizona and several representatives of senior living and skilled nursing-related associations and operators.