Care facilities, hospitals should allow visitors taking safety into account

Facilities for the elderly and hospitals have restricted family members among others from visiting residents and inpatients amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Fortunately, the number of new infections is declining in Japan, thus it is hoped visits to such facilities will be safely resumed.

The government has informed senior citizens’ facilities across the nation that they should encourage meetings between residents and visitors such as their family members. It is calling for such facilities to consider allowing visitors to meet residents in person once all of them are confirmed to have been vaccinated or to have tested negative.

The government has said it is also desirable for hospitals to consider ways to resume visitations based on the same conditions.

Free PCR tests should be available for people who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons if they wish to visit nursing homes and hospitals.

To maintain their physical and mental health or to recover from illness, it is essential for care home residents and hospital inpatients to be able to meet their loved ones. There have been cases reported in which people’s dementia symptoms worsened because they were unable to speak with their family members in person, along with other changes to their living environment.

A private organization that receives calls from patients and their family members seeking medical advice has been flooded with calls from people concerned about visitation restrictions, including those who cannot meet their elderly parents.

In Sumida Ward, Tokyo, public health centers called on hospitals in the ward to ease their visitation restrictions, and around 80% of them have started allowing visits. Experts analyzed the risk of infection during visits and shared the results with hospitals, so that hospitals that had been concerned about possible cluster outbreaks have also decided to ease restrictions.

However, with the resumption of visits, some practical issues have emerged, such as the difficulty of asking family members whether they are vaccinated, as it is a private matter. It is important for the government to present a clear policy so that frontline staff at care homes and hospitals will not have trouble handling the situation.

The government plans to use a “vaccine and testing package” that utilizes inoculation certificates and negative COVID-19 test results to allow people to enter event venues, restaurants and other establishments. Why not introduce such a system for visits to care homes and hospitals as well?

A new variant has been detected in South Africa. Some experts believe it is more contagious than the existing variants, and each country is strengthening border control measures. If there is a possibility of the spread of infections in Japan, facilities need to be flexible on the relevant measures, such as by immediately canceling visits.

There is no telling when infections will spread again. Depending on the situation, it is important to adopt methods that enable inpatients to have online meetings with their family members who are at home, in addition to in-person meetings. Further steps should be taken in an effort to improve and expand the online environment of care facilities and hospitals.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 29, 2021.