San Luis Obispo County is lifting an order that restricted visitors at skilled nursing facilities, bringing a sigh of relief for people with loved ones in these care centers.
Public health officials said skilled nursing facilities should continue to follow state guidance and allow only one visitor to be present with a patient at a time. Visitors should also wear a face covering.
For months, the only sense of closeness families could have was from outside a window, which provided comfort but also caused concern as allegations of abuse increased.
"In June, people started calling in and reporting abuse allegations. All of a sudden they were saying: 'My loved one is being neglected,' 'they're losing weight' or 'they're not getting the care that they need,' and it was partly based on what they were seeing in the window or what residents might be telling them. Every complaint we were receiving was an abuse allegation and that's very unusual. What I think was happening was, because people couldn't verify for themselves what was going on, they were assuming the worst," Karen Jones, Executive Director of Long Term Care Ombudsman Services, said.
As part of Jones's job as an ombudsman, she helps advocate for people who live in long term care facilities and investigates complaints that are made.
Now that people will be allowed back inside these sites, Jones says she is expecting a new influx of calls.
"I do expect that we'll get an increase but I don't mind that at all. We want the care to be good and comfortable in those facilities and if there's a way to make it better, let's do that," Jones said.
Jones said she hopes people will be responsible and follow all protocols.
"It's going to be hard not to reach in and hug and kiss your loved one and hold their hand, but please refrain from that. Give us a little bit more time to convince the people in charge at CMS and the licensing agency that visitors are safe," Jones said.
All skilled nursing facilities are required to expand their existing infection control policies to include the development and implementation of a CDPH-approved COVID-19 mitigation plan, according to the SLO County Public Health Department.
"Visitors are an essential part of patient care and recovery and play an important role in the mental well-being of patients at skilled nursing facilities," Dr. Penny Borenstein, County Health Officer, said.
"Throughout this pandemic, we've worked to balance the science of transmission with the needs that we, as humans, have for connection," Borenstein said. "At this time, we believe the right processes are in place to effectively manage both."