Armed with COVID-19 vaccinations and a drop in coronavirus cases in the general community, senior living communities across the country are slowly beginning to reopen their doors to visitors after months of a pandemic lockdown.

In North Dakota, 90% of the state’s basic care and assisted living communities are reopening their doors to visitors. Each community’s protocols vary, but in recent weeks, assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities are allowing some form of indoor visitation.

In Minnesota, the Department of Health has not changed its visitation guidelines, but the state is beginning to loosen general restrictions that have been in place since March 2020. Pre-scheduled visits can be arranged at some senior living communities but require that there have been no new coronavirus cases for at least 14 days. Guidelines include social distancing, limits on the number of visitors and restrictions on visitor movement inside communities.

In Colorado, a combination of vaccines, repeated negative COVID-19 tests and a low level of community spread is allowing some senior living communities to reopen visitation and allow residents to partake in bingo and short field trips. 

Vermont is beginning to make plans to allow long-term care residents to have more contact with each other and the outside world. The move comes after 85% of assisted living, residential care and skilled nursing facility residents have had at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Essential caregivers

In Indiana, Senate Bill 202 was introduced this week by state Sen. Linda Rogers (R-Granger), requiring health facilities and residential care facilities, including assisted living communities, to participate in the state Compassionate Care Program and the Essential Caregiver Program. Both programs were established by the Indiana State Department of Health and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

These programs allow residents to designate an essential family caregiver who would be permitted to visit a resident for whom they care during a public health emergency. The compassionate care program includes end-of-life visits or any situation in which a resident is struggling physically or emotionally.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, many families have been unable to visit and check on the welfare of their loved ones in long-term care facilities,” Rogers said in a statement. “SB 202 would address this issue by ensuring an essential family caregiver is able to provide important support and companionship to a resident.

The bill also would provide civil immunity to long-term care facilities participating in the programs, unless their behavior constitutes “gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.”

Illinois, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas are among the states that have adopted essential caregivers programs. Washington state is considering a bill allowing visitation by an essential support person. Argentum also released an Essential Caregiver Toolkit to help senior living communities and operators establish essential caregiver programs to combat the social isolation residents experienced during the pandemic.