A Pennsylvania senior living community is defying the state’s continued visitation restriction recommendations to allow family members to once again visit residents. 

James Cox

Paramount Senior Living at Peters Township in southwestern Pennsylvania reopened its doors on Monday, the same day other Washington County businesses entered the state’s “green phase” for reopening under Gov. Tom Wolf’s Process to Reopen Pennsylvania. 

The green phase eases most restrictions by lifting the stay-at-home and business closure orders, but the Department of Health issued guidance on Friday for long-term care and congregate care facilities — including assisted living facilities — that calls for keeping restrictions in place at least 28 days after a facility’s county enters the green phase. 

James Cox, president and CEO of Pittsburgh-based Paramount Health Resources, said the community is allowing 30-minute scheduled, supervised visits between its 90 personal care / assisted living and independent living residents and their family members. The facility also offers memory care, home healthcare and hospice care, but visitation restrictions remain in place for those units.

Cox told McKnight’s Senior Living that nearly three months of visitation restrictions due to the COVID-19 crisis was “taking too much of a toll on residents.” He indicated that the community was seeing mental health and behavior issues among its residents due to loneliness.

“We were experiencing a lot of behavior problems, and they really just didn’t want to stay in compliance any more. They were ready to come out of their rooms,” Cox said, adding that it became almost unmanageable trying to bring psychological services in-house for residents. “It was just beginning to start to take a detrimental toll on residents living here. We said we have to open this up. We have to let people see and hear each other.”

The community is COVID-19-free and is taking a “managed approach” to reopening by adopting precautions visitors, including:

  • Only two family members can visit at a time, by appointment only.
  • Masks and gloves are required at all times.
  • Social distancing must be followed.
  • Visitors will be screened before entering, including being asked questions related to travel and symptoms.
  • Temperatures will be checked. 

Cox said Paramount is using the Peters Township community as a test site for its other communities, using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to make visits as safe as possible. The company has 12 other communities. He said discussions about reopening the facility began about two weeks ago. 

“We didn’t want to violate any type of regulation, but it got to the point where it was detrimental to the residents living with us, and it just was not fair to us,” Cox said. “Enough is enough.”

Wolf on Monday issued a universal testing order for nursing homes as well as updated testing guidance for all long-term care facilities.

“We are working tirelessly to include all long-term care facilities in this strategy as soon as possible,” Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said in a news release. “At this point, we are able to successfully expand testing and support to all staff and residents to further protect those in nursing homes across Pennsylvania.”

The updated testing guidance focuses on keeping COVID-10 out of a facility by testing all staff members and residents and implementing facility-wide testing when a new case in a resident or healthcare professional is found.

In other coronavirus-related news:

  • Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey ordered nursing homes to share information about COVID-19 cases with residents and family members, and to share that information with people being transferred to a facility, including transfers from assisted living communities — if they ask — before the transfer happens.
  • The Arkansas Department of Human Services announced that bonus payments for workers at assisted living communities, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities will be extended through the month after initially expiring on May 30.
  • Assisted living communities and nursing homes account for more than 80% of Connecticut’s coronavirus-linked deaths in recent weeks.
  • A Georgia couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary apart on the same senior living campus. She lives in the apartment they occupied for five years before her husband’s health necessitated his move last year to a room in a long-term care facility on the campus.
  • The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare will begin publishing coronavirus cases at assisted living communities, nursing homes and group homes on its website, under threat of a lawsuit.
  • Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has unveiled a plan to reopen the state’s long-term care facilities.
  • AARP Iowa sent a letter to House Speaker Pat Grassley, House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl and House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, members of the Iowa House and the Iowa governor speaking out against a COVID-19 immunity bill for nursing facilities, assisted living facilities and other long-term care facilities.
  • Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law Friday requiring assisted living and other long-term care facilities in the state to make daily COVID-19 case reports to the Department of Public Health. The law also establishes a new task force to recommend ways to address health disparities during the pandemic. 
  • Following committee hearings and the threat of a legislative subpoena, the Minnesota Department of Health released detailed information about COVID-19-related cases in assisted living and memory care communities as well as nursing and transitional care homes. COVID-19 has put a chill on the Twin Cities senior housing industry in Minnesota. Both developers and residents are being forced to reassess their plans.
  • Montana’s long-term care facilities are the focus of testing efforts. About 80% of the state’s 200-plus assisted living communities have agreed to participate in testing. 
  • New Jersey Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-Monmouth) said she approves of recommendations from Manatt Health to improve resiliency of long-term care facilities amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed an executive order modifying restrictions on visitation at basic care, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, allowing for a phased approach.
  • Under Ohio’s reopening guidance, assisted living facilities are now allowed outdoor visitation.
  • Pennsylvania independent and assisted living community staff and residents are adjusting to virus precautions with the help of the local Somerset community.
  • One Texas independent living resident compares COVID-19 restrictions with incarceration.
  • Texas Sen. Robert L. Nichols (R-Jacksonville) said that instead of contact tracing, taxpayer dollars should be spent on expanding testing, specifically for vulnerable populations in assisted living communities, nursing homes or veteran facilities or in under-tested groups.
  • The city of Seattle and the state of Washington are expanding testing for the coronavirus, including testing in long-term care facilities. Last week, the governor announced that health officials are working to test residents and staff members in the memory care units of assisted living communities and in nursing homes across the state this month.
  • The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is offering direct payments to long-term care service providers and facilities — including assisted living communities, nursing homes and providers of home- and community-based services — from the CARES Act to offset losses and expenses in battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • King’s College London researchers are calling for the immediate use of additional COVID-19 symptoms — loss of taste and smell — to detect new cases, reduce infections and save lives.