A citizen organization says families are still encountering problems when attempting to visit their loved ones in nursing homes. They are now calling for the Texas Legislature to stop emergency rules dictating families’ ability to visit, set clear visitation policies now that Chinese coronavirus vaccines are available, and let citizens have input in these policies.

Texas Caregivers for Compromise (TCC), which represents 3,100 families, has been arguing since March 2020 that individual rights, as well as protections written in the federal 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act, have been violated. TCC issued a call to action earlier this month for citizens to contact their state representatives and state senators about nursing home visitation policies.

“The physical and health devastation of the isolation protocols on the long-term care population and those who love them cannot be overstated,” TCC’s open letter to the Texas Legislature reads.

Last September, citizens sued Gov. Greg Abbott for banning families from being with their loved ones in nursing homes. Days later, he restored visitation rights for much of the state, but attorney Warren Norred cautioned Abbott’s move wasn’t enough.

In fact, Mary Nichols of TCC said issues persist.

“We have told Texas Health and Human Services Commission that county health authorities have been making their own decisions outside state guidelines,” she wrote on February 2. “We have no recourse when they ignore state guidelines and shut facilities down to essential caregiver visits or require excessive quarantine beyond CDC recommendations for discontinuation of transmission-based precautions. This is why emergency rules cannot continue.”

TCC and its supporters are planning a campaign at the state Capitol on March 12—one year after Abbott issued statewide lockdown orders—to remind legislators and other Texans there’s still a problem.

TCC’s letter states they “believe it’s time to end emergency rules and have that difficult conversation about what visitation in long-term care facilities will look like in a post-vaccine COVID-19 world.”

We strongly contend that, after almost a year of isolation without access to their loved ones, residents in long-term care facilities cannot afford to wait while our government agencies determine if it is safe enough to restore visitation.

No statewide elected officials have weighed in on this issue recently.

“I was disappointed Abbott didn’t mention this topic in his State of the State address,” commented Suzanne Williamson on Nichols’ posting to TCC’s call to action. “Sadly, I have never received any acknowledgment from [House Speaker] Dade Phelan or [State Sen.] Brandon Creighton on the books I sent to them.”

TCC said citizens should have input on any state government changes or rules for long-term care visitation.

We are the ones who will spot the flaws in public policy at the implementation level.

The letter also makes it clear that TCC doesn’t want nursing home residents penalized if other residents and staff opt out of receiving a coronavirus vaccine.

“Those residents and staff members in long-term care who choose not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine assume a risk just as those who refuse a flu or pneumonia vaccine do,” the letter continues. “The rights of those who accept the vaccine are not abridged by the existence of those who decline it.”

“It is extremely important that we let CDC, CMS, Texas Health and Human Services Commission and our legislators know that post-vaccine guidance should not perpetuate the current practice of restoring rights to long term care residents based on the infection control choices of others in the facility, community, county, or state,” Nichols posted on February 4.

Texans can keep track of legislation filed by using Texas Legislature Online. Concerned citizens may contact their state representative or state senator.

This article has been updated since publication. 

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.