Kansas governor backs new guidelines on nursing home visits

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said Tuesday she supports new federal guidelines that will allow some visitations at nursing homes that accept Medicaid and Medicare if proper coronavirus-related safety measures are followed.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued guidance last week that provides ways for nursing facilities to allow families to make in-person visits, which have mostly been banned since the pandemic began.

Kelly said in a statement that it’s important to remain vigilant about protecting the health of nursing home residents and stopping the spread of the virus, but her administration recognizes that “prolonged separation of nursing facility residents from their loved ones has taken a significant mental health toll on everyone involved.”

Nursing homes have been a major source of COVID-19 outbreaks in Kansas and other states. The state Department of Health and Environment’s report last week on coronavirus clusters showed 14 of 29 clusters in the state were tied to nursing homes in 11 counties.

The report on clusters, which is released on Wednesdays, defines a cluster as places that have five or more active cases within the past 14 days.

The federal guidance say nursing facilities should continue to follow basic safety measures, such as social distancing and temperature screenings. But nursing homes subject to the federal guidelines can allow indoor visits if they have no new COVID-19 cases for 14 days and are not conducting active outbreak testing.

The CMS said facilities could be fined if they don’t adopt the new guidelines without a valid reason.

The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services inspects state nursing homes to ensure that they comply with federal laws and standards.

“We’re glad to see the guidelines shift back to focus more on ‘resident rights’ and a standardized approach,” the agency’s deputy director of facilities, Scott Brunner, said in a news release.

He said it would take time to implement the new guidelines because every facility will have to follow the protocols based on their different challenges.

Some other long-term care centers in the state are not subject to the guidelines. KDADs said it would use the federal guidelines to issue state guidance in the coming weeks for those facilities.