Updated: January 14, 2021 10:19 PM
Created: January 14, 2021 09:00 PM
The office of Ombudsman for Long-Term Care for the state of Minnesota receives on average 55 complaints a day, with the majority of them focusing on concerns about isolation and COVID-19 visitation restrictions at some facilities, according to staff.
There are state and federal visitation guidelines issued that focus on preventing the spread of the virus in long-term care.
"They actually tell us they feel like prisoners," state long-term care ombudsman Cheryl Hennen said about some of the calls her office receives. "Because of isolation, someone sent me a poster, they took a picture of a poster they put up in their nursing home window saying 'set us free, we are now prisoners.'"
The ombudsman's office is tasked with investigating complaints that can focus on health, safety and welfare of those in long-term care.
"They don't understand why their family members have stopped coming to visit them. In those calls, residents [are] pleading, 'please tell us, will this end, please tell us we will not live like this forever,'" Hennen recalled. "If I seem passionate about this… this is reality, this is reality."
The long-term care ombudsman said COVID-19 visitation restrictions have revealed unfortunate consequences of the pandemic that includes isolation and separation that has affected some residents' mental and physical health.
"COVID-19 has also meant a pandemic of isolation," Hennen said.
Minnesota long-term care and assisted living facilities have been hit the hardest with deaths since the pandemic began last spring.
More Minnesotans have died in those care centers than in any other setting — 3,716 out of 5,817 reported deaths — according to Minnesota Department of Health data from Thursday.
MDH shared a visitation guide for care centers with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that is shaped in part by federal guidelines.
"Balancing COVID-19 safety and visitation restrictions with the well-being of residents in long-term care and other residential settings is an urgent priority for Minnesota," MDH officials wrote in the guide.
Care centers have been given more latitude as the pandemic continues when it comes to allowing in-person visits.
Visitation policies vary by facility, the state guide mentioned visitation can't be restricted without "a reasonable clinical or safety cause."
Hennen said with the COVID-19 vaccine being given out in long-term care settings, there's 'a glimmer of hope,' and in-person visitation restrictions should be reviewed.
"Now, with the rollout of the vaccine, we need to look at the visitation guidance that is in place, and whether or not there needs to be revisions," Hennen said.
Starting next week, the long-term care ombudsman staff will resume in-person visits to investigate complaints. The practice was suspended due to the pandemic back in the spring.
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