Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest executive order leaves in place visitation restrictions for residents of long-term care facilities. Some facilities have even locked down again, suspending all visitation despite guidance from the state’s health agency.

On July 29, Gov. Greg Abbott issued executive order GA-38, which bans local officials from instituting lockdowns and mandating masks in response to the Chinese coronavirus. However, his order allows “a nursing home, state supported living center, assisted living facility, or long-term care facility” to require proof of a resident’s vaccination.

Abbott’s order also leaves in place visitation restrictions for these facilities. “Visitation restrictions are in place because his last two executive orders have singled long-term care facilities out and said they are still under [Texas Department of Health and Human Services] visitation guidance,” Mary Nichols of Texas Caregivers for Compromise told Texas Scorecard after reading Abbott’s order. Visitations are only allowed under emergency guidelines until September, when a law passed by the Texas Legislature during the 2021 regular session will become effective.

However, Nichols said not all facilities are following these guidelines. “At least two dozen facilities I know of have stopped all visitation in blatant contradiction to emergency visitation guidelines,” she pointed out. “The long-term care ombudsman program and HHSC Long-Term Care Regulation are trying to expedite these complaints. But we need a strong word from the governor telling facilities that residents have rights.”

Nichols said these places don’t appear afraid of accountability. “Facilities have been autonomous for so long, and enforcement has been so weak that they know how long it will take if anyone actually does fine them,” she explained. “One of our facilities here in Texas blatantly told a family member that they would rather shut the doors and risk a fine in the next 30 or 45 days. The doors will still have been locked, and they will have erred on the side of caution because the fine will not be excessive anyway.”

Nichols previously shared how visitation restrictions have devastated residents of these facilities and their families. Many residents died before they were able to see their loved ones again. By the time that limited visitation was allowed, some families visited their loved ones only to meet someone different from whom they knew, due to the resident suffering from a disease or cognitive decline. Some residents didn’t even recognize their family members who came to visit.

Long-term care facilities have been locking down or restricting visitation for more than a year, and Nichols has called for Texas to be fully reopened and for visitation restrictions at these facilities to end. But Abbott’s latest order doesn’t do this. “I’m kind of devastated actually that this will never end,” she said.

A request for comment sent to Abbott’s office was not responded to before publication time.

The Texas Legislature passed legislation during this year’s regular session recognizing residents’ right to visitation from someone they identify as an essential caregiver. One law doesn’t become effective until September 1, while a proposed constitutional amendment will be voted on by Texans in November.

Concerned citizens may contact Gov. Abbott, their state senator, and their state representative.

Robert Montoya

A former filmmaker, University of North Texas graduate, and one-time assistant language teacher, Robert Montoya misses Japan and the 1980s. He is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard.

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