New rules expand in-person visits at Texas nursing facilities

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission expanded visitation statewide in nursing facilities and other long-term care settings on Tuesday.

Officials say the updated visitation rules give providers additional flexibilities in accordance with new federal guidelines.

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COVID-19 coronavirus

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (round magenta objects) emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. (NIAID-RML)

According to HHSC, federal guidance issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services earlier this month says fully vaccinated nursing facility residents are now allowed close, in-person visits with family members and friends who are not designated essential caregivers, as long as proper safeguards are in place.

"Safely visiting with family and friends is vital to the mental health and well-being of long-term care residents," said Victoria Ford, HHS chief policy and regulatory officer. "We are so pleased these new rules will allow residents to enjoy in-person visits with a wider circle of loved ones."

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While continuing to follow all protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including the wearing of face masks, HHSC says Texas nursing facilities can now permit:

 - close/personal contact during any visitation for fully vaccinated residents.

- outdoor visitation at all facilities, even when the facility has an outbreak.

- up to two essential caregivers at the same time to visit a resident with any COVID-19 status.

- all visitation without time limits, while adhering to infection prevention and control measures.

- end-of-life visits for all residents regardless of their COVID-19 status in all nursing facilities, with an expanded definition of end-of-life visits that now includes all residents receiving hospice services; residents at or near the end of life, with or without hospice services; and residents whose prognosis does not indicate recovery.

HHSC also says nursing facilities no longer need to:

- request general visitation approval from HHSC.

- monitor visits or escort visitors to and from the visitation area.

- limit indoor visitation to areas with a plexiglass barrier or booth.

- require documentation of a negative COVID-19 test result for essential caregiver or salon services visitors.

In addition to nursing facilities, HHSC expanded visitation allowed in assisted living facilities, intermediate care facilities, and Home and Community-based Services providers.

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Officials say the new rules also remove certain administrative requirements for providers, such as the rules to have staff monitor certain visits and escort visitors to and from a visiting area.

View the updated emergency rules for nursing facilities:

Residents at long-term care facilities were among the first phase of Texans eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.