It’s time to allow visits in long-term care settings and encourage greater staff vaccination along the way, eldercare advocates say.

With most nursing home residents and many senior living residents now at least partly vaccinated against COVID-19, cases in these facilities down, and more Americans getting vaccinated overall, the AARP and the American Seniors Housing Association this week have asked state and federal health officials to ease restrictions and begin allowing residents to receive visits by loved ones.

“We believe there is a critical need for an update to the guidance and criteria for in-person visitation to allow more families to safely visit their loved ones,” Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer, urged the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in a letter sent Tuesday. 

The organization has heard from thousands of families about the challenges of trying to see loved ones and the memories missed, she said. But CMS has not modified its visitation policies since September.

ASHA likewise urged the nation’s governors to recognize the toll that visitation restrictions have taken on seniors’ mental health. In a letter also sent Tuesday, ASHA President David Schless called on state leaders to begin easing “harmful” restrictions in senior living communities, reported McKnight’s Senior Living.

“Given that the risk of senior living residents contracting COVID will be largely eliminated in the next four to six weeks due to effective resident vaccination, the strict visitation restrictions will be harming those you were previously seeking to protect.”

Address vaccine hesitancy, aim for 75% vaccination rate among staff

Long-term care industry advocates, meanwhile, are encouraging a nationwide goal of vaccinating 75% of the industry’s approximately 1.5 million nursing home workers by June 30. 

Staff members have lagged behind residents in accepting COVID-19 vaccinations for a variety of reasons. The American Health Care Association and LeadingAge said they are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue educating these workers and encouraging them to consider getting the shot.

“It’s critical to acknowledge the reasons for vaccine hesitancy are real and varied, and staff concerns must be understood and thoughtfully addressed as we work toward this goal,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge. 

“Many of our staff continue to be excited about the vaccines and the hope they represent, but some caregivers still have questions,” added Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA. “We are continuing to inform our staff about the credibility and safety of the vaccines through our #GetVaccinated campaign, and we hope this goal will further encourage more of our staff members to get the vaccine.”

LeadingAge is working with the Biden administration to ensure that staff members have the “information, conversations and support” they need to get vaccinated, Smith Sloan said.

To this end, the organization also is partnering with the Black Coalition Against COVID, or BCAC, as sponsors of a national town hall on March 4. The meeting will address vaccine concerns among all levels of staff working in long-term care communities.

“Real progress has been made in vaccinating nursing home residents. Now we must also achieve high rates of staff vaccinations,” Smith Sloan said.