Long-Term Care Visitation Dos and Don'ts
Posted on 08/19/2020

On Aug. 6, Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced guidance to allow long-term care (LTC) facilities to offer visitation and other activities for their residents. In March, long-term care facilities halted social activities, including visitation, to protect residents from contracting and spreading COVID-19.

Long-term care facilities serve vulnerable populations that are at higher risk of contracting and potentially dying from COVID-19 because of residents’ age and health status. COVID-19 can quickly spread in congregate living situations like LTCs, correctional facilities, group homes, dormitories, etc. 

LTC facilities may now offer revised activities for residents and visitors to improve quality of life and outreach to loved ones while still maintaining safety protocols to protect vulnerable residents, following the guidance created by the state. The guidance provides a phased approach in keeping with the phased level of the county. Benton-Franklin Health District (BFHD) has been working with these facilities to ensure strong infection control guidance, availability of testing, and other measures to identify cases, minimize the spread of disease, and protect these vulnerable populations.

The Long-Term Care Facilities Visitation plan has four phases. Facilities can only advance as high as the Safe Start phase of the county in which the facility is located, even if the resident’s permanent residence is in another county. As of August 19, Benton and Franklin Counties are in modified Phase 1, which means that our LTC facilities are in Phase 1.

When a county moves forward, facilities can also move forward, but only if they have completed 28 consecutive days without a resident or staff member testing positive for COVID-19. They also must maintain a minimum 14-day supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect residents and employees. Regardless of the phase, other safety precautions remain in effect such as social distancing, universal masking, symptom screening of everyone entering the facility, and maintaining access to testing in compliance with all local and federal PPE guidelines.

Phase 1 allows window, remote, and outdoor visits with the exception of encouraging compassionate care visits, which typically occur during end of life situations. Scheduled outdoor visits are limited to two visitors per day. Group activities, offsite visits, and communal dining are not allowed in Phase 1.

Phase 2 adds limited indoor visits of one essential support person, but only if the resident is unable to meet remotely or outdoors. Limited group activities are also allowed in this phase.

Phase 3 mimics Phase 2, but adds indoor visits to all residents.

Phase 4 allows for normal visitation and group activities.

Transitioning from one phase to another may vary among facilities. Facilities must meet specific metrics before transitioning into the next phase, and can be placed in a lower phase restriction by Washington State Department of Health or Benton-Franklin Health District based on the risk of COVID-19 transmission at the location by residents or staff.

The Health District has been working with local LTC facilities since the beginning of this pandemic and will continue to work with them to protect the wellbeing of their residents and staff, while providing quality of life in the safest phase available. The Health District will keep facilities and the public informed on requirements and updates as we move to new phases in the future.