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A bump in holiday visitors, amid a COVID surge, brings some concerns at N.H. nursing homes

Swab for a test - N.H. National Guard courtesy photo
N.H. National Guard
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With the Thanksgiving holiday, nursing homes across New Hampshire are seeing more visitors and navigating new federal visitation rules released this month

At the Grafton County Nursing Home, Administrator Craig Labore says his facility is seeing an uptick in families coming to visit with the Thanksgiving holiday.

Labore says staff are trying their best to manage the bump in visitations, like asking big groups to break up and visit in smaller groups.

Grafton County Nursing Home, like nursing homes across the state, is also in the midst of implementing new regulations and guidelines at the federal level that have loosened restrictions around visitation. Now, visitors can come when a facility is in outbreak status. They can also visit whenever they would like, no longer needing to call and schedule a visit in advance.

Coos County Nursing Home Administrator Lynn Beede says, with drop in visits, the facility’s practice of offering COVID tests to visitors on-site might get more complicated. “We may not have the capacity to test everyone,” she said.

Beede says testing supply has also been an issue.

Although offering testing is not required by the federal rules, Beede’s staff has been doing it for unvaccinated visitors as an extra precaution.

While nursing homes' control over visitation for residents and families is reduced, Beede says, she’s okay with making a concession. "We work in our resident's homes,” she said.

Federal data show 97 percent of residents and 91 percent of staff are vaccinated at Coos

Coos County Nursing Home N.H. map
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Coos County Nursing Home in Berlin, N.H.

County Nursing Home, and Beede says the vast majority have also gotten a booster.

Brendan Williams, President and CEO of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, says high vaccination rates like that are what make him confident that nursing homes are in a better place than they were this time last year.

Still, he’s deeply concerned about high levels of community transmission. “New Hampshire right now is a raging dumpster fire of COVID 19 cases, we're going to see the effects of that in facilities,” Williams said.

Over the last two months, the number of nursing homes with a COVID-19 outbreak has risen from 9 to 22.