Minnesota to allow more visits to nursing homes, long-term care facilities

A sign that reads 'Thank you nursing home workers'
A sign outside of the Lyngblomsten Care Center supports workers at the nursing home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Peter Cox | MPR News

More people soon will be able to visit loved ones in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. The changes are set to go into effect on Saturday.

Right now people can visit elderly relatives at some nursing homes outside, through a window or as an essential caregiver.  That means people can visit a family member in their room and do caregiving tasks for them.

Not long ago, the state added indoor visits to that list, as long as the facility had not had a COVID-19 exposure in 28 days and spread in the surrounding community was under a certain threshold.

The new rules cut the number of days since a COVID-19 exposure in half, to 14. Minnesota’s Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said fighting isolation is one of the reasons for the change.

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“We know the benefits of increasing social interaction for residents of long-term care, we know the health consequences directly of the isolation. So it's certainly been a goal for all of us to work toward creating a framework for visitation when the risks that we understand are there can be managed,” the health commissioner said.

With Minnesota hitting over 1,000 cases a day for five straight days, the news of easing restrictions surprised some. Malcolm said the changes are also to get into compliance with federal guidelines, which the state has to follow.

“I think it's consistent with the direction that we wanted to go,” Malcolm said. “I think it's probably fair to say the timing was somewhat influenced or, or in many ways, kind of dictated by the federal guidance coming out.”

The state’s guidance gives facilities less room to make decisions about visitors. Unless there is a reasonable or clinical safety cause, such as a staffing crisis, they must allow for visitors in many cases. In addition to a recent COVID-19 exposure, nursing homes in counties with high community spread of the virus also may deny visitors.

According to Minnesota Health Department data from last week, 245 long-term care facilities, including about 40 percent of the state’s nursing homes, had a positive COVID-19 case in the last 14 days.

Patti Cullen, with Care Providers of Minnesota, which represents many long-term care facilities, said they were aware of “the next step to opening up, but we're very, very nervous.”

Cullen expects facilities will try to set aside specialized visiting spaces, so nursing home staff may monitor whether visitors wear face masks as required and follow other infectious disease precautions. She said there’s a lot of worry if people from the outside are going into individual rooms.

“We know how much the families want to see their loved ones. And we know how much the residents want to see their families.”

But Cullen said they worry about the danger, “because an asymptomatic family member may bring COVID into their loved one’s room.”