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Veterans Home reopens outdoor visitation for 1st time since March

RESERVE — After more than six months of being separated from family, residents of the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home can finally see their loved ones through a new outdoor in-person visitation program.

The outdoor visitation began Tuesday at four veterans homes across the state following new guidance from the CDC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home is located at 4080 W. Airline Highway in Reserve.

Last week, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced that nursing homes in Louisiana could begin conducting outdoor visitation with social distancing in place. Facilities in parishes with less than 10 percent test positivity may begin indoor visitation if at least 14 days have passed without any new onset of COVID-19 cases.

While St. John the Baptist Parish has less than five percent test positivity, administrators of local nursing homes and the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home remain cautious about re-opening visitation for vulnerable residents.

According to the Governor’s Office, a total of 2,225 nursing home deaths have been identified in Louisiana since March, accounting for 43.4 percent of all COVID-19-associated deaths in the state. Nursing homes have reported more than 10,000 COVID-19 cases across the state.

The Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home was especially hard hit, with 80 testing positive and 28 passing away within two months after the onset of the COVID-19 shutdown. Twin Oaks Nursing Home in LaPlace and Chateau St. James in Lutcher also battled with COVID-19 outbreaks in the spring and summer.

Twin Oaks plans to release guidance to families within the next week regarding a staggered return to visitation that will still involve safety restrictions.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recommends mitigation measures including limiting the number of visitors, wearing face coverings, adhering to social distancing and conducting COVID-19 symptom screenings.

All visitation at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home will be in an outdoor area, and no visitors will be allowed to enter the building. Brandee Patrick, spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, said visitors will undergo temperature checks and will be asked to use hand sanitizer and wear a face covering for the duration of the visit. Children under 14 will not be allowed to visit at this time.

Visitation is being conducted from 9 to 11 a.m. and from 1 to 4 p.m. each Monday through Friday for the next 28 days. Family members must contact the home to schedule an appointment for visitation.

Per the recent guidance, outdoor in-person visits will be stopped immediately by the facility if a resident or staff member receives a COVID-positive test result.

The Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home will continue testing residents and staff weekly.

Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Joey Strickland is pleased to be able to offer outdoor in-person visitation for families.

“We will continue to follow the guidance of our federal and state partners as we move forward through this pandemic in terms of other visitation options,” he said. “We greatly appreciate the support that our residents’ families and the local communities have shown us during these unprecedented times.”

Governor Edwards spoke about the important of reuniting nursing home residents with their loved ones.

“Recognizing the impact of isolation and the importance of connectedness, Louisiana’s Department of Health was slated to release details today of a nursing home visitation pilot in our state; instead, we will move quickly today to implement this new federal guidance,” Edwards said. “We know these past several months have been tough, especially for our nursing home residents and their loved ones. It’s time for us to do something. At the same time, we are still in the middle of a pandemic and these residents are among our most vulnerable. We all must do our part to make sure this new policy is successful. That means wearing our masks and staying six feet away from others, including when we visit our loved ones in nursing homes.”