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Long term care advocates want 'tweaks' in visitation plans

Advocates for residents of long term care facilities have been asking state officials to tweak some of the provisions outlined in the plan to allow more family visitation, as well as social gatherings inside the facilities.

Those were restricted because of the coronavirus.

Most of the facilities are in “phase one” of the reopening plan, meaning family members can make outside visits to residents.

North Dakota Long Term Care Association executive director Shelly Peterson said one tweak that was implemented is that during phase two, residents will be able to sit four at a dining table, with tables six feet apart.

"They haven't seen their table-mates that they used to eat with each day, and they're in their room," Peterson told reporters. "And being in a room for 90 days has been difficult."

Peterson said there has been some virtual visitation, and activities such as "doorway bingo."

Peterson said families also want the opportunity to hug their loved ones who are in a facility, if they are wearing protective gear.

"It has been really, really hard to have families see each other for the first time in 90 days, and not want to hug them," Peterson said. "There are hugs people are sneaking in, and rightly so."

State human services director Chris Jones said a task force is looking at that issue.

"We don't have a definitive answer yet on when we can hug," Jones said. "We do recognize it's extremely important."

Pilot project

Gov. Doug Burgum announced a pilot project at a Bismarck long term care facility. He said at Augusta Place, if family members are tested for COVID, and are negative, they will be allowed to have a scheduled indoor visitation, for a period of one week following that negative test. Burgum said it mirrors workers in those facilities, who are tested weekly.

"We realize there still is risk, because you can test negative on a Monday, you could be exposed on a Tuesday or Wednesday, get COVID, and go visit a loved one on a Thursday or Friday," Burgum said. "We understand there is risk. But we're bringing the risk down for family members to the same rate that we have with health care workers entering those facilities."

'Silver Lining'

Next Tuesday has been designated “Silver Lining Day” in North Dakota.

The North Dakota Long Term Care Association said it’s to celebrate the 15,000 workers at North Dakota’s 218 long term care facilities. The Association said the employees have worked to keep COVID-19 out of those facilities – and said those employees have been working long hours, and sacrificed a lot in the process.

"I hear this over and over -- 'I don't want to be the one to bring the virus in to our facility," said Hatton Prairie Village administrator Cynthia Treadwell. "We have not had the virus."

Treadwell said no employees have been furloughed, had hours reduced or salaries cut. She said her facility has not lost any employees.

"There is this sense of coming together," Treadwell said. "And we are going to fight this pandemic, and we are going to come out strong on the other side, and be there for our residents and their families."

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