New state guidance allows more indoor visitors to Iowa nursing homes

State officials announced new changes to novel coronavirus-related guidance to long-term care facilities that allows more indoor visits to take place.

To align with new requirements from the federal level, state public health officials say compassionate care visits are now allowed in nursing homes and other senior living facilities across the state, and does not exclusively apply in end-of-life situations.

Under the new state rules, indoor visits can now take place in the residents’ rooms and in dedicated visitation spaces within the facility.

A resident can qualify for a compassionate care visit under the following scenarios:

• The resident is grieving after a family member or friend recently died.

• The resident, who was living with family until recently being admitted to a nursing home, is struggling with the change and lack of physical family presence.

• A resident needs encouragement with eating or drinking, as they are currently experiencing weight loss or dehydration.

• A resident is experiencing emotional distress, is seldom speaking or is crying more frequently.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which released this guidance on Sept. 17, also lists key ways these nursing homes can prevent the spread of the virus as they allow more visitors into their facilities. That includes requiring face masks and social distance between the residents and their visitors.


“CMS understands that nursing home residents derive value from the physical, emotional and spiritual support they receive through visitation from family and friends,” CMS officials stated in a letter announcing the new guidance. “In light of this, CMS is revising the guidance regarding visitation in nursing homes during the COVID-19 (pandemic).”

In announcing this change on Thursday, the statement from Iowa Department of Public Health and the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals voiced the same concerns and said the change allows facilities to “address the psychosocial needs of residents.”

“Except for ongoing use of virtual visits, facilities may still restrict visitation due to the COVID-19 county positivity rate, the facility’s COVID-19 status, a resident’s COVID-19 status, visitor symptoms, lack of adherence to proper infection control practices or other relevant factors related to the COVID-19 public health emergency,” according to state officials.

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