David Schless headshot
ASHA President David Schless

Citing resident vaccination rates, the American Seniors Housing Association is asking the nation’s governors to begin easing “harmful” visitation restrictions in senior living communities.

ASHA President David Schless penned a letter Tuesday to National Governors Association Chair Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and Vice Chair Asa Hutchinson (R-AR), and all state governors, saying “it is imperative that the states take steps to allow residents to visit with families and loved ones.”

Most senior living residents are expected to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of March, Schless noted. He called on the governors’ association and governors to review and update their policies to allow visitation in the coming weeks in independent living, assisted living, memory care, and continuing care retirement / life plan communities.

“Research has shown that prolonged social isolation, lack of engagement and loneliness can contribute to functional and cognitive decline, as well as depression and anxiety in older adults,” Schless wrote. “Given that the risk of senior living residents contracting COVID will be largely eliminated in the next four to six weeks due to effective resident vaccination updatek, the strict visitation restrictions will be harming those you were previously seeking to protect.”

Senior living communities help combat loneliness, he added, through opportunities to interact with others during communal dining and onsite programming. But, he said, residents need socially and emotionally meaningful interaction with their loved ones.

“Older adults need to be able to interact with family members and friends, [so] we implore you to take action to remove the harmful visitation restrictions in senior living communities now that most residents have been successfully vaccinated against COVID-19,” he wrote.

According to the CDC Data Tracker, the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care program has administered more than 6.6 million doses in assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. More than 4.4 million residents and staff members have received at least one dose as of Tuesday.

The federal government launched the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program on Feb. 11 to expand vaccine access, including to congregate living residents previously shut out of vaccination clinics.