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IDPH finally adopts federal guidance for long-term care facility visits

Carrie Leljedal spends time with her son, Lynn, during a visit to his long-term care facility...
Carrie Leljedal spends time with her son, Lynn, during a visit to his long-term care facility in June.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 5:03 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 24, 2021 at 5:38 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Illinois is finally falling into line with federal guidance on long-term care facility visits, 12 days after the federal government put out the guidance.

The Illinois Department of Public Health had allowed family and friends to visit loved ones in long-term care facilities when COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations dropped earlier this year, but the surge in delta variant cases caused facilities to block residents from their families again.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have said all residents should be able to see their loved ones. Thursday is Thanksgiving, and many in CMS facilities in Illinois won’t have that opportunity.

The facility that Carrie Leljedal’s son Lynn stays at already adopted the recent guidance.

“Under the nursing home reform act, residents are entitled to visitors of their choosing any time they want, 24 hours a day. And that’s what is supposed to be being restored,” said Leljedal, a top advocate with Illinois Caregivers for Compromise.

But many long-term care facilities in Illinois have continued to wait for the green light from IDPH.

CMS released the updated guidance Nov. 12 to restore rights for residents. While IDPH officials agree that CMS-regulated facilities should follow it, the department waited until 2 p.m. Wednesday to adopt the changes for long-term care centers.

IDPH officials adopted CMS guidance for long-term care facilities on Wednesday.
IDPH officials adopted CMS guidance for long-term care facilities on Wednesday.(Mike Miletich)

An IDPH spokesperson confirmed the department is also working on separate guidance to mirror the CMS change. However, officials don’t have an exact date for when that will be ready.

“It’s no surprise that Thanksgiving lands on the fourth Thursday of November every year,” said Sen. Terry Bryant (R-Murphysboro). “So they’ve had plenty of time to get these new guidelines out in time for people to visit their family on Thanksgiving.”

Bryant said she consistently talks with Leljedal and other members of Caregivers for Compromise. She said no one should be forced to live in “COVID jail” while others can enjoy life as they please. Bryant previously worked in the Illinois Department of Corrections and argues that residents in long-term care have it worse than prisoners.

The Southern Illinois lawmaker said she doesn’t expect to see families get an apology from the state because “IDPH would have to own up to this mistake.”

“Get this resolved before this holiday season is over because the people who are the most vulnerable in our society deserve to have the same privileges as all the rest of us to be able to visit with their families,” Bryant said.

Unfortunately, Bryant and Leljedal believe many facilities won’t have enough time to put the guidance into place since they were given less than a day’s notice from the state.

“How many people, again, are going to spend another holiday without their family and friends? We don’t put people in long-term care to die,” Leljedal said. “We put them in long-term care to hopefully improve their quality of life and get them the assistance they need.”

Leljedal said the governor’s office and IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike should be ashamed of themselves for not making this a higher priority.

An IDPH spokesperson said all local health departments and long-term care facilities received an update that visitation is now allowed for all residents at all times.

Leljedal said she is glad the department finally took action Wednesday, but she expressed concerned about how long IDPH will take to finalize the new guidance. Bryant said she’ll continue to ask the department why this was delayed.

“As much as I personally like Dr. Ezike, this is completely inexcusable,” Bryant said. “I wish that there were some more lawmakers who had the courage to speak out about this. Please, help us with this. We are in the holiday season. Let these people have freedom right now.”

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