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Austin congregate care facilities prepared for visitors

While safety has been the number one concern during the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health has also been a top priority as well.

Congregate care facilities in Minnesota were recently given a little bit more freedom when it comes to the visitor policy and Cedars of Austin and Sacred Heart Care Center are both amongst the care centers that are moving forward with a more open visitor policy.

A family visits outside the Cedars of Austin earlier this week after the state lifted restrictions on visiting. Photo provided

Cedars of Austin is allowing outdoor social visits and has expanded the definition of essential caregiver visits, meaning residents can receive a helpful guest if they show declining mental health conditions.

Ashley Farr, the legal and compliance officer at Cedars of Austin, said they are following the recommendations from the Department of Health as they open their guest policy a little bit.

“We’re really excited that they’re doing this,” she said. “It has taken a toll on residents across the state. We’re happy to take this step while balancing the health and safety of all of our residents. It’s a positive step towards hopefully reopening at some point in the future.”

Sacred Heart is looking to host outdoor visitors on July 29. The facility will allow up to two visitors per resident and the 20-minute visits will be monitored by a staff member. Masks will be required as well as six feet of distance between the resident and the visitor.

Sacred Heart is already regularly testing its staff and residents and visitors will be screened before meeting with residents.

Chris Schulz, administrator of Sacred Heart, said that the center has had drive up visits, but he’s looking forward to face-to-face visits.

“It’s huge for the mental health of our residents and for the mental health of our families,” he said. “It’s bad and it’s depressing (to not have visitors). Our residents thank us quite often for us being safe and being smart, but actually being able to sit at a table with your loved one is a big deal.”

Sacred Heart was set to start hosting visitors earlier, but a COVID-19 diagnosis on the facility delayed the start.

“It’s unfortunate that we had something like this happen that’s going to set us back a little farther,” Schulz said. “We’re trying to be as cautious as possible, because there’s a lot of people on this campus that we have to care for. We want to watch their health, but make sure we’re taking care of their mental health as well.”