LITTLE ROCK – We set a goal to test every resident and staff member in long-term-care in June, and today I’m pleased to say that nursing homes, and assisted-living and residential-care facilities will be able to resume limited family visits and other activities on July 1 if they have complied with the public health guidelines of the Arkansas Department of Health.
This is an important step. The residents of nursing homes have been cut off from direct visits with family and friends for three months. This isolation is very difficult on our loved ones, and because of our testing and other measures in place, we are ready to have visitors again.
In terms of testing, as of this week, we have tested over 19,000 of our nursing home residents and staff with only 150 positive cases. This indicates we are doing a good job of protecting some of our most vulnerable Arkansans.
Many of our nursing homes are completely free of COVID-19. Arkansas’s rate of positive cases is less than half the national average.
The Arkansas Health Care Association is coordinating with the Arkansas Department of Health on the June initiative. Executive Director Rachel Bunch said that for the comfort of the elderly, the testers will use the least-invasive swab available.
She points out that the increase in testing will initially produce an increase in the number of positive cases, but the testing will allow us to create a baseline to guide our decisions. She also said that a large number of patients who test positive don’t show any symptoms. A person with a positive test isn’t necessarily sick.
We issued the directive that visitors would not be allowed into nursing homes on March 14. This decision hit close to home. A member of my own staff wasn’t allowed to visit her father. The directive included an end-of-life exception for family members, so that she was allowed to put on personal protective equipment to see him before he passed.
During this time of isolation, the caregivers have assisted residents with window visits and internet visits. The family of Louis Strickland, an Army veteran, threw a party for his 100th birthday, but his family had to watch through a window at the Veterans Home. But nothing is as good as an in-person visit of a family member.
We are close to our testing goal. The long wait for families and their loved ones in nursing homes is almost over.