Although we have recently received positive news with respect to COVID-19 vaccine trials, it will be some time before assisted living facility (ALF) residents can be vaccinated and COVID-19 restrictions lifted. During this pandemic, I am frequently asked by residents’ family members about whether the resident has any “rights” to visit with his or her loved ones. Accordingly, it is important to understand the interplay between the rights of an ALF resident and the current visitation restrictions imposed by ALFs due to COVID-19.
There is actually a “Resident Bill of Rights” for ALF residents contained in Florida Statutes Section 429.28. In normal times, the Resident Bill of Rights allows ALF residents to have unrestricted visitation with any person of the resident’s choice from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and extended hours for certain caregivers. However, due to the pandemic, residents’ visitation rights have been restricted to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in facilities.
ALFs in Florida are regulated by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), which is the chief health policy and planning entity for the state. AHCA encourages everyone to visit the Florida Department of Health’s dedicated COVID‑19 webpage at https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/ for the most up-to-date resource for information and guidance regarding COVID-19 in Florida.
It is important to understand that the guidance ALFs are receiving from AHCA, who in turn receives orders from the governor, has been changing frequently, and facilities are doing their best to keep up with current guidance and training staff to adhere to the updated guidance. For example, on November 4th, AHCA released a visitation Q&A memo based on orders from the governor and the Division of Emergency Management (see https://ahca.myflorida.com/docs/Visitation_FAQs_11-4-20.pdf). Among the key revisions include the direction to allow resident visits from their legal counsel when virtual means are not available, to allow children to visit with appropriate monitoring, and to allow outdoor visitation regardless of facility COVID cases. Screening of visitors is required, but it is up to the facility whether they want to require testing as well.
Further, visitors must provide their own PPE (i.e., face mask)—ALFs are not required to provide one to the visitor. In addition, the only visitors who are allowed to have physical contact with the resident are “compassionate care” visitors (who must wear a surgical mask), defined as those who visit to assist with a difficult time or event for the resident and those who provide assistance and support including emotional support to a resident; generally, close family members or friends of the resident. For example, a friend or family member who visits occasionally, young children/grandchildren, and out-of-town visitors would likely be deemed a general visitor (unless there for an end of life visit or circumstances otherwise qualify as compassionate care).
Therefore, it is important to not get frustrated with ALF staff when new procedures are required for visitation, as this is unchartered territory for all of us, and we are all learning, and in this together.
The information provided herein is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Please contact Advocates in Aging, Law Office of Wiesner Smith at 941-365-9900 or fill out the online contact form to schedule a free 30-minute consultation.