REGIONAL- “Most of our residents are pretty excited,” said Miguel Campa, Director of Operations for Minnesota Signature Care, the company that owns Vermilion Senior Living in Tower. …
REGIONAL- “Most of our residents are pretty excited,” said Miguel Campa, Director of Operations for Minnesota Signature Care, the company that owns Vermilion Senior Living in Tower. “They are pretty excited to see their loved ones.”
New rules released June 19 by the Minnesota Department of Health allow outdoor and window visits for residents at long-term care facilities. This is the first time any visits, except for end-of-life care, have been allowed since the novel coronavirus arrived in Minnesota in March, forcing statewide stay-at-home orders and the closing off of nursing homes and assisted living facilities to visitors.
Residents of long-term care facilities in Minnesota account for less than one percent of Minnesota’s population, but total 15 percent of Minnesota’s COVID-19 cases, and an astounding 80 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths. As of this month, one in five nursing homes in Minnesota have at least one resident with COVID-19, though less than one in ten assisted living facilities have cases.
While nursing homes and assisted living facilities in northern St. Louis County have so far stayed free from COVID-19 infections, administrators are all doing everything possible to keep the dangerous virus away from their residents.
“This is life or death stuff,” said Adam Masloski, Executive Director of the Boundary Waters Care Center in Ely.
Masloski said that families started calling on Friday, right after the new rules were released.
“People wanted to be able to visit for Father’s Day,” he said.
“We need to do this as safely as we can,” Masloski said. “We are working on our plan right now, planning the logistics, and will be starting visits soon.”
Masloski said they will need to be vigilant and not relax the rules after a few weeks.
“We need to keep the six-foot social distancing rule,” he said. “We worry about people visiting a few times and then deciding it is okay to hug.”
Each facility needs to develop their own plan, following state recommendations. The state is asking that visiting hours are established, visitors must go through a health screening and wear masks, residents must wear masks, alcohol-based hand sanitizers must be used prior and after the visit, the outdoor visiting area must be large enough to provide for six-foot social distancing, and staff must be able to observe the visit and then sanitize the area between visits.
The Cook Care Center was set to start outdoor visits on June 24.
Assistant Admin-istrator Julie Lesemann said they have set up an area in an outdoor courtyard, set visiting hours to make sure the additional staff needed are available, and have notified all the residents and their representatives of the new policy. Visitors and residents will also have to sign a risk acknowledgement that they understand the possible risks of a visit to the resident.
Most of these smaller facilities do not have the staff or available outdoor space for more than one family visit at a time.
At Vermilion Senior Living, visits will be scheduled every half hour in the outdoor patio to the rear of the dining area. Campa said families can schedule multiple visits in one day if the schedule allows. The area is being rearranged to create visual cues for maintaining the six-foot distance between family members and the resident.
“We want family members to be able to see their loved ones,” said Campa. “It is really hard for the elderly to be quarantined.”
All of those involved in implementing the new rules understand the dangers that COVID-19 presents in a group living setting.
“The spread of this can go very quickly,” said Campa. “We all shared those fears and concerns. At the end of the day, this is all about taking care of people.”
Maskoski noted that outdoor visits would have to stop immediately if anyone in the facility tests positive for COVID-19.
All facilities are continuously monitoring both residents and staff for signs of COVID-19. The entire staff and all the 36 residents at Boundary Waters Care Center were tested on June 11, and all tests came back negative, said Masloski, who is hoping that by following the new guidance they can continue to keep all their residents safe.
The state has also issued new guidance for setting up “window visits,” where residents stay inside and can talk to a visitor through an open, screened window.