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Lankford Wants Families to Safely Reunite with Loved Ones and Friends after Vaccinations

CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s Q&A.

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today participated in a Senate Finance Committee hearing entitled, “A National Tragedy: COVID-19 in the Nation’s Nursing Homes,” to ask what guidance the health-expert panel could provide on how and when vaccinated senior adults could receive visitors safely. He noted that Oklahoma and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) have issued some, sometimes unaligned guidance.

Lankford has pushed this issue for a month, and in February he took to the Senate floor to call on the CDC to provide Oklahoma seniors, those with comorbidities, and others who’ve received the full COVID-19 vaccine regiment with up-to-date guidance on when and in what ways it is safe to move forward with their daily lives now that they are completely vaccinated. His remarks followed a letter he sent to the CDC director requesting the guidance earlier in February.

Oklahoma updated its visitation guidelines in early March, following a CDC guidance update, to allow visitors who have completed state-certified essential care training to visit their loved one, similar to the programs mentioned as options in the hearing today. Lankford also asked how we can apply best practices with COVID-19 health and safety precautions for other health issues going forward.

Witness at today’s Finance Committee hearing included:

  • Adelina Ramos, Certified Nursing Assistant, SEIU District 1199 New England
  • Denise Bottcher, State Director, AARP Louisiana
  • Quiteka Moten, MPH, CDP, State Long-Term Care Ombudsman, State of Tennessee
  • R. Tamara Konetzka, PhD, Louis Block Professor Of Public Health Sciences, Department Of Public Health Sciences, The University of Chicago
  • John Dicken, Director, Health Care, United States Government Accountability Office
  • David Gifford, MD, MPH, Chief Medical Officer, American Health Care Association


On what actions can be taken to safely reunite long-term care residents with family members

Lankford: I’ve been a very outspoken advocate for obviously safety for all of our long-term care facilities as all of you have been as well. So I appreciate very much what you’re doing for this, but I’ve also been an advocate to say, many individuals in my state, in fact all the individuals that want it in my state, that are in long-term care facilities, have already been vaccinated, both the staff and the individuals. Some of them have been vaccinated five, six weeks already, been through the full regiment and been on the other side of it. There’s a difficult balance there of trying to provide safety to those individuals but to also provide access to their grandchildren, their families, other individuals, school groups that want to be able to come in and bless them, what they’ve seen as some normal activity in the past around the facility and trying to strike that balance. CDC’s trying to put out some guidance. States, including my own state, have put out some guidance on their own. Sometimes they’re not lining up. So my question on this is, based on where we are right now, what would you recommend that we put as guidance out for individuals that are dealing with real depression and real isolation in a very difficult season of life already? What would you recommend we start to do for those that have already been vaccinated in these facilities?

Dr. Gifford: Well I think, you know, I’m glad you’re raising that point. And I think we’ve all seen these families and healthcare givers that when you take a frail, elderly person and restrict them from seeing their family and can’t participate in activities and see other residents, and really have trouble interacting with the staff as well because many of them have dementia and they don’t understand what’s going on—it will have dire consequences with that. And I think the challenge is when do you balance the safety of a virus that has a 20-percent mortality risk with the clearly devastating impacts you’ve had with that? I think we’re transitioning out of that, which is good. I think this raises just a broader question about how do we move to providing the care, and activities, and infection control when you have to restrict people’s movements around in a building.

Ms. Moten, MPH, CDP: I think in large part on the temporary nurse aides and how people have gone and gotten the certification to be able to work in facilities but may not have all the credentials, I think from a logistical standpoint just simply put, we could allow families to take these same types of trainings, trainings toward infection control and universal precautions and allow for the designation of an essential caregiver so that they’re able to be in there and they’re able to come in and help supplement the care that staff may not be able to provide. Allow these people who are going to see their families dialy and weekly prior to COVID, and so I think this is just one of many solutions that we can look at across the board, and working through that, they’d still be held to the same requirements as staffing in terms of testing and ideally vaccination.

Dr. Konetzka: I’ll just add that the essential caregiver programs that were just mentioned, a handful of states at least implemented these even before the CDC opened up guidance about visits, and those may serve as a model for how we should be moving as a country. Those are programs in which some family members could go in on a regular basis, and they took all the precautions that staff took, and I think those were generally very successful.

On utilizing best practices from COVID-19 precautions going forward

Lankford: We’ll still have tough flu seasons in the days ahead, and obviously a really difficult flu can have a catastrophic effect inside of a long-term care facility as well. Would you recommend some of these same processes be carried over into a difficult flu season as well for individuals in long-term care?

Dr. Konetzka: Perhaps, but I think it’s important to remember that reducing physical risk is not the only goal here. We need to find the right balance between quality of life and seeing family and friends and reducing physical risk. I think the goal is probably not zero risk. The goal is to find the right balance.

Lankford: I’m glad to be able to hear you say that because there does seem to be a concern about trying to, how do we get to zero risk, and zero risk has a lot of emotional damage on a lot of families and a lot of individuals and their isolation. So many individuals that I interact with will say things like, ‘I have been waiting for ten months, and I’ve thought in my head over and over, once I get the vaccine this’ll be different,’ and they’re experiencing right now nothing different for them, and they’ve had the vaccine.