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Hospital, Nursing Home visitation rules change in light of COVID-19 concerns

March 17, 2020 - 17:38
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AUSTIN – To protect vulnerable hospital patients from COVID-19, Texas Health and Human Services has issued updated, expanded guidance to hospitals that now includes granting access only to essential visitors such as medical professionals and authorized caregivers acting specifically on a patient’s behalf.

“At the direction of Governor Greg Abbott and effective immediately, we are requiring hospitals to prevent non-essential visitors from access given the significant health and safety risk to patients 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 Governor Abbott, as well as new federal guidance.”

This new prohibition applies to general hospitals, special hospitals, and private psychiatric hospitals, excluding outpatient clinics operated by hospitals.

Essential visitors include government personnel; one designated caregiver acting on the patient’s behalf, such as a parent of a minor or a legally authorized representative; patient family members no more than one at a time; clergy members authorized by the hospital; and additional family members of patients at the end of life or presenting at the emergency department, subject to hospital policy.

“We understand these new restrictions will be difficult for patients and their families and loved ones,” Kostroun said. “We must take every measure to protect patients, as well as hospital personnel who are on the front lines in the battle against this new virus.”

Hospitals also must implement screening protocols for anyone entering their facility, including staff, medical professionals, and other essential visitors, using guidelines issued by CMS. Under certain compassionate care situations, such as a patient’s end-of-life, non-essential visitors will be allowed in a hospital, and the facility must follow all CMS protocols.  

Texas HHS is working closely with the Office of the Governor, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), the Texas Department of Emergency Management, and other state and federal agencies to monitor and assess the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.

Hospitals in Texas are required to maintain strong infection prevention and control programs to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. If a hospital believes a patient, visitor, or employee might have been exposed or infected with COVID-19, it is required to immediately report it to the local health department or to DSHS.

Texas HHS is also requiring hospitals to post signs at the entrance about access restrictions; check for fever of visitors and staff; continue to monitor and isolate patients with fever or acute respiratory symptoms; provide infection control training to staff; execute frequent handwashing; and provide personal protective equipment to patients or staff as needed. For more information, visit the CDC’s coronavirus page.  

During this rapidly evolving situation, the agency is also issuing updated infection control guidance for other licensed entities such as child care operations and long-term care facilities. All regulated providers are encouraged to stay up-to-date on the latest guidance by visiting the Texas HHS COVID‑19 page.

Texas HHS licenses and regulates 703 general, special, and private psychiatric hospitals throughout the state.

For health-related information and general precautions on COVID-19, visit the DSHS website and the CDC page.


Nursing home visit changes during COVID-19 concern


Area nursing homes are being affected during the COVID-19 concern. 

Columbus Oaks Healthcare Community issued the following statement Mar. 16: “Per Centers for Medicate and Medicaid Services (CMS) mandate, we can no longer hold group activities or communal dining.

We are doing everything we can to care for our residents and maintain the well-being of the community. We appreciate the collaboration from our families and providers in this trying time.”

Eagle Lake Nursing and Rehabilitation issued the following update Mar. 13: “Due to the potential for the spread of COVID-19 (the new coronavirus) and to ensure our residents are cared for in a safe and healthy environment, until further notice we request the family, friends, volunteers and any nonessential personnel do not visit the facility.

We also are staying up-to-date with the CDC recommendations as they may continue to change. In addition, our facility is in close contact with the local and state health department and we are following their guidelines.

All activities into the community or any activities provided by the community have also been canceled until further notice.

Thank you for your understanding as we try to keep our residents safe and healthy.

Next week, Eagle Lake Nursing will be installing Skype. Face time is also in the works. Calling 979-243-3910 and asking to be transferred to your loved one’s room is also available.”