Lack of test availability impacts San Diegans’ ability to visit loved ones in nursing homes

LINDA VISTA (KUSI) – Beginning Jan. 7, the California Department of Public Health imposed some of the most stringent visitation requirements for long term care facilities in the nation.

Visitors must provide proof of vaccination, a booster shot, and a negative test before entering any facility. For San Diego resident Erin Popka, the new requirements are detrimental. 

“It’s devastating, they have essentially taken away visitation again. It’s devastating for the families and caregivers, but more so for the residents of these facilities,” Popka said. “In my father’s case, he has a severe brain injury that he received a year ago and he is in a semi-vegetative state, which means he can’t do basic functions.”

Popka, along with other members of her family, have provided essential care that’s not covered or included in health coverage by the facility. Since the order took effect on Jan. 7, she described the process of finding a test a, “nightmare.” If visitors are lucky enough to find a rapid antigen test, it needs to be done within 24 hours of the visit. If they take a PCR test, it needs to be within two days of the visit, according to the order.

“We were outraged given that CMS, the federal agency who oversees nursing homes, they have loosened all restrictions for visitors,” said Pat McGinnis with California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. “We were thinking, New York has followed CMS guidelines, California seems to be kowtowing to the nursing home industry and denying the rights of visitors.”

She cited nationwide statistics that show denying access to visitors at long-term care facilities is directly correlated with a rise in morbidity rates among patients. Popka said residents in facilities have already survived one round of restrictions on visitors and she fears what this latest guideline will do.

“Residents lost their will to live, not to mention inadequate care because their caregivers weren’t there to take care of them, and it’s going to happen again and I don’t think people have the drive to do it again,” Popka said.

McGinnis agrees with the fact that family and loved ones provide most of the essential care that’s not being given at facilities. Many are being barred because they simply cannot find available tests.

 “Family makes up 50% or more of care provided to these people and we’re denying them. It’s just an abysmal policy,” McGinnis said. “Not to mention, asymptomatic staff can still work in facilities. They don’t have to be tested like visitors and families and we know from experience that the spread inside nursing homes is from staff.”

Popka is calling for the passage of HR-3733, the Essential Care Givers Act, which is already implemented in numerous other states.

“It allows access to essential caregivers to long-term care facilities to provide care and support amid a public health emergency,” Popka said. “It allows two caregivers to follow the same guidelines as the nursing staff as far as regulations but can still be present.”

McGinnis also encourages residents to contact the CDPH and provide feedback to health officials who have implemented the new visitation requirements. 

The order is in place until Feb. 7, 2022, but many fear it could be extended.

KUSI’s Hunter Sowards was live in Linda Vista with more details on how new testing requirements have been impacting San Diegans.

Categories: Coronavirus, Good Evening San Diego, Health, Local San Diego News