PHOENIX — New visitation guidelines are now in effect at long term care facilities, starting Thursday.
These will be in effect in counties that have now achieved a "moderate" reopening status. The updated guidelines will bring some relief to families who have been unable to see their loved ones in long term care facilities face to face since March. The last few months have really taken a toll on families with loved ones in long-term care facilities. Many have reported seeing the mental and physical health of their family members decline with the limited contact they have had through visits that have taken place with glass walls in between them.
Debra Ramsey's family is eager to see these restrictions loosening up.
"My mother is 88 years old. Her name is Shirley. She is bed-bound and she had a stroke 17 years ago," said Ramsey.
Like many of her fellow residents, Shirley was unable to leave her room to visit family members in socially distanced areas set up outside. Ramsey said the last time she had been able to give her mother a hug was 7-months ago.
"This whole thing has been a nightmare. Not being able to see her for so many months, and only able to look at her through a window- in 115-degree heat it's been really hard," she described.
The family visited their mother regularly. Ramsey said her 90-year-old father usually visits his bed-bound wife twice a day, through the window.
"He loves my mother dearly, and for him to go see her even though the window which is not optimal, at least he knows she's still living and she knows that he cares," said Ramsey.
Even after the state first started easing up restrictions allowing family members to see their loved ones face to face, the Ramsey family was one of many left out in the cold. Those visiting bed bound family members inside the facility had to present a negative COVID-19 test to the facility before being allowed into their family member's room. Ramsey said they found that requirement to be nearly impossible to fulfill.
"To try and get a COVID test every 48 hours when you have no symptoms, it is impossible. So, we were just unable to see my mother," said Ramsey.
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services:
"Maricopa County is currently in moderate reopening status and must follow the requirements for that category in the guidance document (page 6). This allows for limited indoor visitation while practicing other prevention strategies but still requires a negative COVID test for general visitors less than 48 hours old.
Please note that residents may designate one or two family member(s) or caretaker(s) to serve as designated essential visitors. Essential visitors must present the facility documentation of a negative COVID test (either PCR or antigen) on the same testing interval required by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for the facility staff. Under moderate status, this is once a week."
Once the COVID-19 percent positivity rate is less than 5%, visitors will have to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within the last 30 days.
Essential visitors will have to attest to avoiding large gatherings and follow all safety guidelines set by the County, such as wearing a mask, social distancing, and completing a visitor log for contact tracing purposes.
While not all the way there yet, Ramsey says this brings some relief.
"My biggest fear through all this is my mother would die and I could not be there and my father could not be there," said Ramsey.
A list of testing sites can be found at azhealth.gov/COVID19testing [azdhs.gov].