The Advocate: Louisiana Nursing Homes Restricting Visitors Amid Coronavirus Worries

BY YOUSSEF RDDAD | STAFF WRITER MARCH 11, 2020

Louisiana nursing homes and assisted-living facilities will screen visitors and heavily restrict non-essential entry because of the serious risk the novel coronavirus poses to the elderly and those with existing health conditions.

The Louisiana Nursing Home Association on Wednesday instructed family members to arrange alternative ways to contact their loved ones in nursing homes to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus that emerged from central China late last year and has spread globally and in parts of Louisiana.

“LNHA asks that the public support efforts to protect nursing facility residents by not visiting a nursing facility until further notice in order to limit potential exposure,” the organization’s executive director Mark Berger said in a statement Wednesday.

The group represents more than 250 nursing facilities and assisted living centers caring for about 25,000 people who are elderly or have disabilities across the state.

Along with limiting who can come into centers, Berger said the organization is also telling facilities to increase their focus on hand-washing, limit surfaces touched, use protective equipment when necessary, conduct regular cleaning and urge staff, vendors and visitors to stay away if sick.

The changes mirror new guidelines federal health officials and national trade group leaders made this week advising facilities to screen family members, employees, contractors and other visitors before allowing them to enter. Those recommendations also advise friends and family to discourage routine visits to hospice centers and other assisted-and long-term-living facilities.

The groups were quick to say the heightened protections are not a ban on visitors and carved out exceptions for time-sensitive visits, as long as they haven’t traveled recently, aren’t sick and contain their movements within a facility.

Of the handful of presumptive coronavirus cases, three cases were reported at the Lambeth House in New Orleans, a retirement home that offers some care services, state officials said Wednesday. At least one resident went to a hospital Friday, and the community restricted non-essential visitors and other steps in response.

State officials and advocates have expressed worries older people and those with underlying medical conditions are especially vulnerable to serious and sometimes deadly complications, such as pneumonia. There’s no specific treatment for COVID-19 and no one has immunity to it.

The national trade groups pointed to cases in Washington state and the Seattle area — the epicenter of the U.S. COVID-19 outbreak — where a number of long-term care facilities have been hit. State health officials there have linked more than a dozen deaths to a single care facility in a Seattle suburb as of Tuesday.

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living earlier this week pressed federal health officials to increase safeguards, saying national guidelines weren’t strong enough to protect residents from getting sick.

Their recommendations include immediate hand-washing for all visitors and turning away people coming from communities that have reported COVID-19 cases.

Though Louisiana has few confirmed cases, the World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the outbreak as a global pandemic, a designation used when a new disease spreads over several countries and affects many people.

Health officials believe COVID-19 spreads through droplets from coughing and close contact with people when they are exhibiting symptoms. At least one of the cases in Louisiana was contracted in the community and not from travel.

The added safeguards at nursing homes are also in place to limit staff and nurses from getting sick.

“LNHA will continue to work closely with state and federal health organizations to protect Louisiana’s most vulnerable and will update member facilities as we learn more and receive additional guidance and resources,” Berger said.