(The Center Square) – The New York State Department of Health informed all nursing homes late Thursday that residents can receive visitors. The move puts the state in line with current federal recommendations regarding the coronavirus.
DOH sent a memo to nursing home officials informing them this decision “supersedes and replaces” previous guidance.
“[W]e recognize that physical separation from family and other loved ones has taken a physical and emotional toll on residents and their loved ones,” the memo stated.
The memo added that since the most recent federal guidance, which was released a month ago, millions of nursing home residents and staff have received a COVID-19 vaccine. That policy required facilities to enforce a 14-day visitation suspension if the facility reported a positive case.
In a statement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state has always used science as its guide to protect its residents. Over the last two months, the number of positive cases has dropped by more than 80 percent.
“We now have three effective vaccines that are leading to significant decreases in long-term care COVOD cases and a robust staff testing system to limit community spread from entering a facility,” the governor said.
State policies on nursing homes have been among the most controversial guidelines the administration has set since the pandemic started more than a year ago. However, even some of the governor’s harshest critics welcomed this change.
Prior to the announcement, Better Nursing Homes for New York State repeatedly questioned why the state wasn’t following most up-to-date guidelines established by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“NY visitation rules 'outdated & cruel' with most elderly vaccinated,” the group tweeted Thursday morning.
The state’s memo tells long-term care facilities they can construct visitation policies based on both its and residents' needs. That gives them the flexibility to allow visitors in resident rooms, dedicated spaces or outdoors.
The state said nursing homes must screen all who enter and conduct coronavirus screenings that include asking questions and conducting temperature checks. Face coverings and observance of six-foot social distancing guidelines will also be required. Visitors who can’t follow the guidelines either should not be allowed to enter or they should be asked to leave.
The Cuomo administration finds itself under both a federal investigation as well as a legislative impeachment inquiry regarding its previous handling of nursing home policy as well as a significant undercount of fatalities. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have called for Cuomo's resignation.
On Wednesday, the state Senate took action to repeal immunity protections for nursing home operators by passing S.5177 unanimously.
“During the early months of the pandemic, the legislature granted healthcare facilities broad corporate immunity stripping grieving families of their right to seek proper legal recourse and potentially incentivizing nursing home executives to cut corners,” bill sponsor and state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi said in a statement. “Now knowing that we would lose over 13,000 nursing home residents to COVID-19, we have a duty to right this wrong and fully repeal the remaining protections.”