Can I Visit An Illinois Nursing Home This Holiday Season?

holiday visits at nursing homes

COVID-19 Surge Prompts Holiday Nursing Home Visit Plea From Health Officials

As the coronavirus pandemic has now met the busy holiday season, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued an unprecedented alert with recommendations for residents, their families and representatives, and nursing home staff to follow starting now and through the New Year’s holiday. The alert urges all groups to celebrate virtually and avoid in-person visits due to the surge in COVID-19 cases. Along with the CMS request and safe visiting reminders from The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, Levin & Perconti’s nursing home abuse and neglect lawyers in Chicago want to help families choose how best to include their loved ones in their 2020 holiday plans. And while we agree with CMS that family engagement and a resident’s right to leave the nursing home are choices up to each individual, everyone needs to work together to take extra precautions to help reduce the spread of COVID- 19, which can pose an elevated danger to Illinois’ nursing home residents.

Throughout the Holidays

  • Families and residents should continue to follow state and federal guidelines for visitation and adhere to the core principles of infection prevention when visiting is permitted. This includes remaining six feet or more apart, wearing a face covering, limiting the number of family members visiting at any one time, and only congregating in outside spaces.
  • Nursing homes should find creative ways to celebrate the holidays without having parties or gatherings.
  • Family members and friends of residents can find alternative ways to gather by using technology such as Facetime and Zoom.
  • Staff should use extra caution during the holidays and follow CDC recommendations for their gatherings with families and friends outside of work to protect the vulnerable residents they care for.

Leaving the Nursing Home for the Holidays

  • CMS advises against residents leaving the nursing home because doing so could increase a resident’s risk for exposure. The risk may be further increased by factors such as a resident’s health status, the spread of COVID-19 in the community (e.g., cases or positivity rate), or attendance at large gatherings.
  • Nursing home staff should discuss the risks of leaving the facility with residents and families and encourage alternative means of connecting, such as by phone or video.
  • If a resident chooses to leave the facility, CMS outlines numerous measures to take, such as performing hand hygiene often and verbally greeting others instead of giving hugs or shaking hands.
  • Residents and family members should report to nursing home staff if they have had any exposure to COVID-19 while outside the nursing home.
  • Upon a resident’s return, CMS urges nursing homes to:
  • Screen and increase monitoring for signs and symptoms.
  • Test a resident for COVID-19 if signs or symptoms are present or if a resident or their family reports possible exposure to COVID-19 while outside the nursing home.
  • Place the resident on transmission-based precautions (TBP), such as being quarantined, if the resident or family member reports possible exposure to COVID-19 or if the resident has signs or symptoms of COVID-19 upon return.
  • Consider placing residents on TBP if they were away from the nursing home for more than 24 hours.

If you want to take your loved one out of the facility and into your home for the holiday, CMS is strongly discouraging this due to rising COVID-19 rates. You may also want to review the long-term care center’s policies for taking a loved one home during the holiday and then returning. Contacting a representative with the Illinois long-term care ombudsman program can also be helpful at this time. It is important to understand the risks and consequences of leaving the facility, such as the increased chance of disease exposure to your loved one and your family members, testing needed, quarantine time required, and changes in rooming upon their return to the home.

Also, all Illinois long-term care facilities should continue to work with residents, families, caregivers, resident representatives, and advocates to identify the need for compassionate care visits.

Becoming Familiar with Illinois’ COVID Compassionate Care Visit Policies

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, all in-person visitation is generally prohibited while indoors, except in compassionate care situations when outdoor visitation is not practicable. Compassionate care visitors are restricted to the room where the visitation will occur, and visits are considered on a case-by-case basis.

  • Compassionate care cases that may be considered could include a resident whose health status has sharply declined or a resident whose close relative or close friend recently passed away. Situations warranting consideration are not limited to the end of life.
  • Visitors will be pre-screened by phone using a written, checklist-based screening protocol or through electronic screening methods less than 24 hours in advance; re-screen with the same protocol on arrival, as for all other persons entering the facility, including temperature check.
  • Visitors will be notified upon arrival that if they develop symptoms of COVID-19 within three days after visiting, they must immediately notify the facility.
  • Visits should be conducted using social distancing; however, if a visitor and facility identify a way to allow for personal contact during a compassionate care visit, it should only be done following all appropriate infection prevention guidelines and for a limited amount of time.

We advise you to reach out to your loved one’s facility early to learn about the current visitation policy and scheduling options during the holidays. If you cannot meet in person at this time, then virtually should be an option. With the holiday season approaching, the facility may not be able accommodate all virtual meeting requests due to exhausted resources and staff, so you may need to be flexible and celebrate on a different day not to overburden care staff. Consider the holidays as a season, rather than one specific day.

As challenging as this time is for nursing home residents and their families, as well as overburdened care staff, please know we wish you all the very best of a healthy and safe holiday season. We are here if you need us.

Chicago Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Attorneys Can Help Your Family

Levin & Perconti has been prepared to work at full capacity since the start of the COVID-19 crisis and our attorneys have helped dozens of Illinois families seek justice in the most tragic cases of abuse and preventable neglect. If you choose to make a legal claim against an Illinois nursing home related to COVID-19, please contact us for a consultation at 877-374-1417 or in Chicago at 312-332-2872. All calls and discussions with our attorneys are welcome, free, and always confidential.

Learn more from Levin & Perconti Attorney Michael Bonamarte: How can families promote good safe care and keep up resident morale?

Source: Department of Health & Human Services, Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Center for Clinical Standards and Quality/Quality Safety & Oversight Group Alert, November 2020.


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