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Kansas debate heats up over nursing homes’ visitor rules

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 5:53 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP/KWCH) - Families and advocates for the elderly in Kansas argue that with most nursing home residents vaccinated against COVID-19, some facilities’ visiting rules need to be relaxed.

The federal government says more than 84 percent of Kansas’ long term care facility residents are fully vaccinated while the rate for staff is 55 percent. Right now, state and federal guidance calls for restricting visitors when a county’s positive percentage rate is more than 10 percent and when fewer than 70 percent of the facility’s residents are vaccinated.

A state official who investigates complaints against nursing homes and the elder-care-focused Kansas Advocates for Better Care called on the state Tuesday to intervene when nursing homes aren’t open enough. Camille Russell, with the Office of the Long Term Care Ombudsman, says while the percentage of cases is rising, another shutdown is not the answer.

“As an ombudsman in the resident advocate program, we are very concerned they would consider another shutdown and it would be devastating to the residents. I hope we learned from the previous shut down that what we really need is good infection control practices but we don’t need to lock surveyors out or family members out of the building,” said Russell.

Some industry officials still see a need for caution because of the growing presence in Kansas of the faster-spreading delta variant. Operators feel they’re still facing tough choices after nursing homes were COVID-19 hot spots earlier in the pandemic, but advocates for residents worry that the delta variant could cause homes to lock down again.

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