Outdoor visits allowed at residential facilities under new DHHS order 

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    Starting on Tuesday, people living in residential care facilities such as nursing homes will be able to see visitors outdoors under a new epidemic order.

    Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Director Robert Gordon signed the directive which permits additional exceptions to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s temporary restrictions on visits during the pandemic at health care, residential care, congregate care and juvenile justice facilities.

    “Limiting visitation has saved lives,” Gordon said. “And seeing loved ones in person is important for mental health. Allowing outdoor visits – with proper procedures such as requiring social distancing and masks – is good for residents and can keep everyone safe.”

    DHHS’ order is based in part on recommendations from Gov. Whitmer’s Nursing Home Preparedness Task Force.

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    On June 30, when DHHS last expanded visitation, the epidemic curve was on the upswing. Last week, COVID-19 outbreaks in congregate facilities declined 19% from 83 to 67. 

    However, the order still allows local health departments to make the decision to stop visitations if necessary in areas with higher levels of risk.

    In order to offer outdoor visits, facilities must follow a number of safety protocols, including ensuring that the space allows for at least six feet of social distancing between all people. 

    They also must assure someone trained in infection control will be within sight range to assure compliance with resident protection protocols.

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    Visitations must be by appointment only, only up to two visitors are allowed at a time, visitors are mandated to wear a mask, and visits are prohibited for residents who are in isolation or under observation for COVID-19 symptoms. 

    “The Michigan Long Term Care Ombudsman Program welcomes this cautious step forward to allow outdoor visits with residents of long-term care facilities,” said Salli Pung, the program ombudsman. “We also appreciate residents will now have access to medical and non-medical services that many residents have not received for nearly six months. By promoting these vital and basic visits and services, long term care facilities can better ensure and address residents’ quality of life.”

    The order applies to residential long-term care facilities, which include nursing homes, homes for the aged, adult foster care facilities, hospice facilities, substance abuse disorder residential facilities, independent living facilities and assisted living facilities.

    After reviewing experience and feedback around outdoor visitation, the department will consider additional changes to visitation rules.

    Allison Donahue
    Allison Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.