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Arizona Congresswoman Lesko Asks CMS For Clarification On Long-Term Care Family Visits

Debbie Lesko
Debbie Lesko

In September, Arizona allowed families to visit loved ones in long-term care after months of restrictions due to COVID-19. But some state lawmakers say that’s not always happening, and they’ve asked a member of Arizona’s congressional delegation to get involved. 

Republican Congresswoman Debbie Lesko says Arizona Senate President Karen Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, along with members of both chambers, contacted her after hearing that some families couldn’t visit their loved ones in long-term care.

"They said what is happening in Arizona with some of the assisted living facilities and specifically skilled nursing facilities is that they were giving the excuse that they weren't allowed to have visitors visit the patients, or people that live there, because of CMS regulations, even though the state would allow it," Lesko said. 

Lesko sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid asking it to clarify or modify its guidance so long-term care facilities can provide “meaningful in-person visits for their residents.” 

David Voepel is the CEO of the Arizona Healthcare Association, which represents the state’s 148 skilled nursing facilities. One reason he says is that a facility could be dealing with COVID-19, and it’s not always possible to separate residents.

"I know a 100-bed facility that has 50 rooms in it. And each of those rooms have two people in it. If they get a COVID outbreak, they have to isolate those people. They're not doubling up on rooms. But they don't have any wings. They have one wing, and that's it," Voepel said. 

Voepel said the surge of COVID-19 and the level of community spread could be a factor if a facility restricts or limits visits.  And the coronavirus is spreading faster in Arizona than anywhere else in the country, with a R-naught of 1.22

KJZZ senior field correspondent Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.