State to ease COVID-19 restrictions on nursing homes

By , Daily Memphian Updated: September 17, 2020 3:00 PM CT | Published: September 17, 2020 2:00 PM CT

Tennessee is set to allow nursing homes to open for more visitation and activities as long as they show no new cases for two weeks.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services haven’t issued new guidelines yet, but because its number of cases is declining the state put out new guidelines, to take effect Oct. 1, enabling outdoor visitation and limited indoor visitation for nursing homes and long-term care facilities that show no new cases in residents and staff for 14 days.

“The health and safety of vulnerable Tennesseans, especially our long-term care residents, remains our top priority, and our comprehensive and persistent efforts to protect this population from COVID-19 have saved lives,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey. “It’s time to reunite residents and their families in a safe and disciplined manner so we can better balance the physical and emotional needs of older Tennesseans.”

The state instituted strict guidelines in March after outbreaks killed numerous people in nursing homes across the state, including several in Memphis and a Gallatin facility. Tennessee also initiated complete testing of nursing home residents and staff early in the pandemic.

More than 410 facilities have reported more than one case, a total of 3,941 with 536 deaths, more than a fourth of the state’s 2,000-plus cases. About 3,585 nursing home staffers have had COVID.

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Yet throughout Tennessee’s state of emergency, families have been traumatized in situations where loved ones died alone in nursing homes because members weren’t allowed to visit. State officials say they are trying to balance health protection with mental wellness with new guidelines.

Indoor visits will be limited to common areas where social distancing, masks, temperature checks and capacity limits would be required.

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About 260 facilities have reported cases within the last 28 days out of the state’s 740 facilities. Testing with on-site equipment will continue in nursing homes.

After 14 days without new cases, facilities also will be allowed to increase access to communal dining, healthcare personnel, therapy gyms and barbers and beauticians, as long as safety protocol is followed.

In addition, more volunteers could be allowed to assist with residents’ needs and social activities. Medically necessary trips also would be allowed, but other trips should be minimized.

If a facility reports no new cases for 28 days, it will be allowed to offer an essential caregiver program. Essential caregivers are designated individuals who may visit frequently to assist residents with activities of daily living, such as feeding, bathing and dressing.

The state also will form a COVID-19 task force to deal with long-term care facility needs.

Officials believe nursing homes will abide by the new guidelines, without making false reports, because of state laws and federal mandates requiring cases to be reported within 24 hours.

With the new guidelines to take effect Oct. 1, some nursing homes could start allowing visitations immediately, as long as they’ve met requirements for no new cases.

Editor’s Note: The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed. Our journalists continue to work around the clock to provide you with the extensive coverage you need; if you can subscribe, please do


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Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter with more than 30 years of journalism experience as a writer, editor and columnist covering the state Legislature and Tennessee politics for The Daily Memphian.


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