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CMS Issues “Holiday Leave Recommendations Letter” for Nursing Homes, Residents, Resident Family Members, and Staff

Written by: Laura Hall Cartner, Esq. and Kathleen Wilkinson, Esq.

This year, the holiday season certainly looks a little different in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With varying limitations on visitation since March, this year will host a particularly unique holiday season for our nations nursing homes, caregivers, residents and their families.

On November 18, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a “Holiday Leave Recommendations Letter” (available at https://www.cms.gov/files/document/covid-facility-holiday-recommendations.pdf). In the Letter, CMS continues to emphasize the importance of following guidance for nursing home visitation as updated on September 17, 2020 (available at https://www.cms.gov/files/document/qso-20-39-nh.pdf). As addressed in continually evolving guidance,  limitations on nursing home visitation are necessary to ensure the health and safety of residents during the challenges presented by the spread of COVID-19.

Through the Holiday Leave Recommendations Letter, CMS acknowledges the emotional impact that separation from loved ones has caused nursing home residents and their family members. During the holiday season, CMS encourages facilities to explore creative ways of celebrating without traditional parties or gatherings to ensure protection of residents health and safety. Potential safe but festive alternatives include virtual parties or visits, seasonal music, movies and decorations.

Additionally, the Holiday Leave Recommendations Letter directs residents and their families/representatives to the CDC’s webpage on holiday celebrations (available at:https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html). The webpage provides resources for those navigating upcoming holiday celebrations, including advice for modifying holiday plans to stay safe and slow the spread.

The Holiday Leave Recommendations Letter addresses the temptation some residents and their loved ones may feel to temporarily leave a nursing home to attend holiday gatherings with family and friends. CMS reminds readers that leaving a nursing home can increase a residents risk for exposure, and also emphasizes that CMS continues to recommend against residents leaving nursing homes for such outings during the Public Health Emergency.

CMS advises nursing homes to “educate residents and their families of the risks of leaving the facility, the steps they should take to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19, and  encourage residents to stay connected to loved ones through alternative means of communication such as phone and video communication.” In the event residents and their family/representatives choose to leave the nursing home for holiday outings, CMS outlines actions nursing homes are recommended to take upon residents return.