AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: The above story is related to the orders the Austin-Travis County interim health authority issued for long-term care facilities last week.
The Texas Health and Human Services Department (HHS) has issued updated guidance to nursing facilities in an attempt to protect elderly individuals from coronavirus. The guidance includes banning non-essential visitors.
"At the direction of Gov. Greg Abbott and effective immediately, we are now requiring nursing facilities to prevent non-essential visitors from access given the significant health and safety risk to residents posed by COVID-19,” said David Kostroun, HHS deputy executive commissioner for regulatory Services. “These measures are precautionary and based on the state disaster declaration made by Gov. Abbott, as well as new federal guidance."
Texas HHS said facility access should be restricted to staff, certain medical professionals and other essential service providers. Until further notice, nursing facilities are encouraged to use alternative means of communication such as FaceTime, Skype or other video or audio systems for residents to maintain contact with family and friends.
Only under certain compassionate care circumstances, such as a resident's end-of-life, can non-essential visitors be allowed.
"We understand how difficult these new restrictions will be for residents and their families and loved ones,” Kostroun said. “First and foremost, we must all share the goal of protecting the people who are proving to be most vulnerable to this new virus."
Texas HHS said that nursing facilities must also screen anyone entering a facility for COVID-19 using guidelines issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). If a facility believes a resident, visitor or employee might have been exposed to or infected with COVID-19, the facility is required to immediately report it to their local health department or to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is also conducting targeted inspections of facilities with a history of infection control deficiencies in the last three years.
Additionally, Texas HHS is requiring facilities to post signs at the entrance about access restrictions; check for fever of visitors, staff and residents; suspend group gatherings; continue to monitor and isolate residents with fever or acute respiratory symptoms; provide infection control training to staff; execute frequent handwashing; and provide personal protective equipment to residents or staff as needed.
These new state-mandated requirements come just days after the Austin-Travis County interim health authority issued its own orders to secure long-term care facilities such as nursing homes from the threat of COVID-19.
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