Nursing homes still reluctant to relax restrictions despite high vaccination rate

Despite a vaccination coverage of around 80 per cent, most nursing homes in the Netherlands have not yet significantly relaxed their visiting restrictions, according to recent research by Maastricht University (UM) and Radboud university medical center (Radboudumc) in Nijmegen. The study also shows that the measures are still having a negative impact on the daily lives and well-being of nursing home residents. In view of the high vaccination rate and the sharp reduction in the number of infections, the researchers argue that restrictions in nursing homes should be relaxed without delay.

Vaccinations and relaxation

For almost a year, 76 nursing homes in the Netherlands have been monitored by the Living Lab in Ageing & Long-Term Care in Limburg and the University Knowledge Network for Elderly Care Nijmegen (UKON). This new study looked at the impact that the vaccination of residents and staff has had on daily life in Dutch nursing homes. At the beginning of this month, almost 80 per cent of residents had been vaccinated in most nursing homes and between 60 and 70 percent of the staff. In many homes, the percentage of vaccinated residents is even higher than 80 per cent. However, this high vaccination coverage has not yet led to any major relaxations. Strict visiting restrictions are frequently still in place. For example, in 20% of the homes one regular visitor is still the norm, in almost half of the nursing homes no grandchildren visit yet, a third of the nursing homes have fixed visiting times and in 1 in 5 locations residents are not allowed to leave their nursing home for a visit elsewhere. In almost all nursing homes, vaccinated residents do not yet enjoy additional freedom compared to non-vaccinated residents. 

Residents’ well-being

Even after nursing home residents have been vaccinated, it appears that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their daily lives is unabated. The majority of nursing homes are still reporting reduced well-being among residents, chiefly due to persistent feelings of loneliness. Social interaction is still reduced, and in most homes, residents and their loved ones are still not allowed to hug each other. Some nursing homes say they want to wait until all residents have been vaccinated before relaxing restrictions; others say they do not yet have a policy on relaxing. Some believe that the same strict rules should continue to apply in nursing homes as in the rest of society. ‘But the vaccination rate in society as a whole is much lower and nursing home residents generally don’t go into intensive care,’ says Jan Hamers, Professor of Care of Older People at UM. ‘I understand how hard it is to take the first steps, but now is the time for nursing homes to take the initiative to relax restrictions, in consultation with residents, relatives and staff.’

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