Bryant to Governor and IDPH: Clearer Guidance Required for Long Term Care Facilities to Improve Living Conditions and Mental Health for Seniors

MURPHYSBORO – State Rep. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) has issued a letter to Governor JB Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike requesting clearer guidance be provided to long-term health care facilities housing senior citizens. Bryant is asking the Governor and IDPH to clear up a confusing patchwork of rules and guidance from IDPH in regard to visitation, outdoor activity and exercise, and resuming in-person dining room meals. The full text of the letter is below.

June 18, 2020

Dear Governor Pritzker and Dr. Ezike,

The purpose of this letter is to express to you my deepest concerns for the well-being of Illinois’ senior citizens living in long-term care facilities. I understand that the COVID-19 pandemic caused a devastating number of illnesses and deaths among our vulnerable senior population. Nursing homes in many states including Illinois saw dramatic spikes in cases and higher rates of fatalities.

As devastating as the COVID-19 pandemic has been, I believe the guidance issued to long-term care facilities by IDPH and the administration is causing another kind of pandemic. Throughout the crisis, I have heard from hundreds of my constituents expressing deep concern for the state of mental health of their loved ones living in long-term care facilities across the state.

Seniors are being isolated in their rooms for weeks at a time, only allowed to eat meals in their rooms, and denied the ability to exercise or get fresh air. Additionally, residents in long-term care cannot see visitors except through their bedroom windows in many cases. The stories that I hear are heartbreaking, and I believe we can work together to find safe, effective ways to end the isolation of our seniors in long-term care. The lack of clear guidance on these issues so far has resulted in a confusing patchwork of policy implementations in long-term care facilities across the state.
Here are a few of my proposals for changes to guidance for long-term care facilities that I sincerely hope you will consider implementing as soon as possible:

  1. Make IDPH’s guidance much clearer on whether seniors in long-term care may go outside at least one hour per day weather permitting. Currently, some facilities are allowing this practice, and some are not.
  2. Make IDPH’s guidance much clearer on whether long-term care facilities may implement their own policies to allow in-person visitation following social distancing and proper use of PPE. Currently, residents in some long-term care facilities are allowed only to see visitors through glass windows or via online video service. This is a major quality of life issue not only for seniors in long-term care, but for sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, and nieces and nephews of long-term care residents. In-person visits benefit the mental health of both the resident and the visitor and improve residents’ overall quality of life.
  3. Allow in-person dining room eating following social distancing and limited capacity guidelines. Allow long-term care facilities to establish their own rules for this process. The social interaction benefits to mental health for seniors in long-term care facilities cannot be overstated. Isolating seniors in their rooms away from other residents and forcing residents to eat all their meals in take-out containers in their rooms is NOT the best we can do in Illinois.

    I look forward to hearing back from you as soon as possible regarding this urgent matter. The very mental health and well-being of Illinois’ most vulnerable and isolated population is at stake and requires prompt action and cooperation. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me anytime.

Sincerely,

Terri Bryant
State Representative – 115th District