Florida Nursing Homes to Reopen to Visitors

By: John Ruffier

The State of Florida appears finally ready to allow visitors to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Soon after the initial outbreak of COVID-19, Florida had issued an emergency order prohibiting visitation to nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other long-term care facilities except by family and friends during end-of-life situations or for the purposes of health care or legal services. On September 1, Governor Ron DeSantis announced that a task force given responsibility for coming up with procedures for reopening facilities to visitors had fulfilled its mission and he would be signing a new executive order allowing visitation to resume, but only in compliance with guidelines recommended by the task force.

Although the order providing the specific visitation guidelines has not been released yet, if the governor follows the recommendations of the task force released last week, the new guidelines include a designation for “essential caregivers” — loved ones who bathe, dress, feed or provide emotional support to a resident. The addition of emotional support was controversial, but ultimately included as a way to allow older relatives and caregivers to visit residents, even if they lack the physical ability to bathe, dress of feed a loved one. Essential caregivers will be allowed limited, scheduled visitation wearing CDC-recommended personal protective gear (which is anticipated to mean at least a mask).

The governor’s order allowing visitation is not, however, anticipated to require a negative coronavirus test on the part of the visitor. The task force decided against requiring coronavirus testing for visitors after Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees said test results often come too late to be useful.

Notwithstanding the task force’s recommendation, visitors will be required to comply with any facility-specific procedures to protect against the spread of COVID-19, such as temperature checks.

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