The global COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has created worldwide panic, fear and uncertainty. Vulnerable populations are most at risk, particularly the elderly who may have underlying conditions that compromise your health. Elderly in nursing homes are an especially vulnerable group as they cannot practice “social distancing” and are in close quarters with other elderly people, many of whom have health issues.
Governor J.B. Pritzker announced new staffing procedures and visitor restrictions Wednesday at Illinois state-run nursing homes as the coronavirus spreads, “We are very, very concerned about our senior facilities.”
Family members of individuals in nursing homes are rightly concerned. This is an evolving medical situation, and health guidelines often seem contradictory and slow to roll out. Here are some guidelines for family members who have loved ones in nursing homes during the coronavirus crisis.
1. Will I Be Able to Visit My Loved One in a Nursing Home?
Coronavirus appears to be highly contagious and easily spread through the air. In addition, virus tests are not readily available. Many nursing homes may restrict visitors in order to protect the health of their patients and staff. If your loved one’s nursing home bans visitors – and this isn’t just families, visitor bans might also include contractors, non-essential staff, and government or community workers – ask what procedures are in place to monitor the health and stay in contact with the patient. Facetime and other technology is available to stay in contact with your loved one.
Illinois is discouraging family members under the age of 18 from coming to visit their relatives.
2. Will I Be Able to Instruct their Care?
If your loved one in a nursing home does not have a Power of Attorney or Healthcare Proxy in place, now would be a good time to enact one, BEFORE a crisis occurs. Your estate planning attorney can set timeframes and conditions on the documents, which might give the patient peace of mind if this is happening very quickly.
3. Does Medicare / Medicaid Cover Coronavirus Testing?
Medicare and Medicaid will cover tests for the virus. The department of Health and Human Services has designated the test for the new strain of coronavirus (officially called COVID-19) an essential health benefit.
4. The Nursing Home Has a Confirmed Coronavirus Patient. Should I move them?
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend moving your family member out of their nursing home at this time, says AARP. If they have been exposed to the virus, moving them to another facility will simply increase the risks. Bringing them home where you may not have the resources to care for them can lead to other problems, as well as expose your household to the coronavirus.
It’s important now that families remain calm but take practical measuring to protect elderly family members during the coronavirus, particularly those in nursing homes, elder care facilities or senior living communities, including the VA. Family members living in independent facilities should be encouraged to practice “self-distancing” and self-isolate to protect themselves, and their loved ones.
Do you have questions about elder law in Illinois? Our experienced elder law attorneys in Lombard Illinois understand applicable laws and advise you on the best options to protect an elderly or disabled person. Contact the Estate & Probate Legal Group at (630) 800-0112.