Brightwater Senior Living reuniting families, following new DHEC visitation guidance

Updated: Mar. 11, 2021 at 11:22 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - After many months apart, many families in South Carolina will soon be able to reunite with their loved ones face-to-face.

On Wednesday, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control announced it received federal approval to update visitation guidelines for South Carolina nursing homes and community residential care facilities.

This means senior care facilities must use DHEC’s COVID-19 percent positive by county data to help determine when indoor visitations should be allowed.

One of the facilities preparing for this change is the Brightwater Senior Living community in Myrtle Beach.

Julia Hamm, 85, has lived in Brightwater for about four years and resides in the community’s independent living sector.

She’s also part of the 98% of residents in that sector that are fully vaccinated and has been re-adjusting to life since then.

“Freeing, are you kidding,” Hamm said, describing how it felt to be fully vaccinated. “I’m going out to dinner for the first time since in March [of last year].”

The independent sector of Brightwater has been able to do in-person and indoor visitations for quite some time.

“Everyone’s so happy,” said Hamm.

Staff at Brightwater said state leaders’ new guidance will open the door for residents in another sector of their community to feel a piece of normalcy just like Hamm is experiencing.

The new criteria for in-person visits outlined by DHEC on Wednesday includes the following:

  • A less than or equal to 10% positivity rate in the county in which the facility is located, using DHEC’s data
  • No COVID-19 cases among staff and/or residents in the past 14 days
  • Maintained the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) core principles of COVID-19 infection prevention

Brightwater Executive Director Michael Fink says the healthcare services sector, which is regulated by DHEC, will allow indoor visitations in their assisted living center and memory care community starting March 16.

That’s as long as they meet DHEC’s requirements.

“Families are excited, our residents are excited,” said Fink. “We just can’t wait to get back to normalcy.”

Fink also says the facility had been allowing compassionate care visits for some time, but these new visitation guidelines will allow families at a higher rate and expand beyond only designated areas in the facility.

“More so in [their]rooms other than a designated area [only],” he explained. “It will allow us to be better than what we were once previously.”

For residents like Hamm, they wish brighter days for all their neighbors with their loved ones by their side.

“It could make a difference between you being so depressed you don’t want to live or want to live,” she said. “It would break your heart to see a family standing outside a window trying to communicate with their loved ones. And that’s what we were seeing.”

Fink said at this time, the new guidance will not be enforced for the skilled nursing sector which is also a part of care services.

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