Image of older man with cane, sitting alone

Nursing home operators took limiting in-person contact with residents very seriously after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Visits of all kinds fell by 53% between March and April, new findings by Research revealed.

The findings also showed that between April and June visits rebounded but were still down overall 33% when compared to March. 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in mid-March issued guidance restricting access for all visitor and non-essential healthcare personnel from facilities in an effort to combat and limit the spread of COVID-19.

The analysis used de-identified visitor data to nursing homes from 26 states. Researchers noted that because the data is de-identified, total traffic to nursing homes is inclusive of staff, vendors and visitors. 

“While this data does show the significant drop in visitors, it does not quite fully convey that there was almost a 100% decrease in [non-essential] visits that bring great joy to our residents — visits from their family and friends,” Erin Shvetzoff Hennessey, CEO of Health Dimensions Group, told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News

Hennessey explained that non-essential visitors that many facilities stopped included visits from family, beauticians, clergy, entertainment and all non-essential health visits. She noted that “most providers took the guidance very seriously and had even put in place restrictions prior to CMS requirements.”  

“The isolation our residents have felt is heartbreaking, but necessary to keep them safe from a virus that has been so unkind to our residents,” she added. 

Christopher Laxton, executive director of AMDA — The Society of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, noted that better visitor insight might have been provided if the data was stratified by type of visitor. 

But based on the findings, Laxton said, “It appears that the decline in visits in March and April validate nursing homes’ understanding that their patient and resident populations are at extreme and disproportional risk of illness and death from COVID-19 and need to be protected.” 

“The subsequent increase in visits through June is likely multifactorial, including the need to mitigate the devastating effects of long-term social isolation on the nursing home population, among other reasons,” he told McKnight’s.