DSHS 24/7 facilities to allow indoor visitation

Western State Hospital

OLYMPIA — In alignment with a proclamation issued by Gov. Jay Inslee, the Department of Social and Health Services’ Behavioral Health Administration will immediately allow expanded indoor visitation at Eastern and Western State Hospitals, the Child Study and Treatment Center and the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island. Visitation will also be allowed at the Fort Steilacoom, Maple Lane and Yakima Competency Restoration Residential Treatment Centers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued guidance on March 10 recommending the return of indoor visitation. Visitation in Washington facilities was prohibited last March, but limited visitation has been allowed since August. While outdoor visits remain preferred, indoor visits will be allowed, effective April 1, if either the resident or visitor are fully vaccinated.

“The past year has been devastating for residents, their families and dedicated staff who risked their own health and safety to care for them,” said DSHS Secretary Cheryl Strange. “Birthdays, holidays and anniversaries were missed. The diligence and sacrifice of residents and their families will now allow them to mark those occasions in person again. And that’s something to celebrate.

24/7 residents were among the first to receive the vaccine, and more than 693 residents have now been fully vaccinated. In turn, the numbers of COVID-19 cases have started to drop. In early January, the daily number of residents with active cases of COVID-19 peaked at 33. That number now ranges between zero and four.

As a result, residents will now be allowed to host visitors indoors unless there is an active outbreak in their facility. Until now, indoor visits had been limited to compassionate care situations. Outdoor visits with masks, social distancing and a limited number of visitors have been allowed at many facilities since last fall.

Since the chance for transmission is lower outside, DSHS still encourages families to conduct outdoor visits whenever possible. Also, visitors must continue to wear masks, wash their hands and must not visit loved ones if they are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms.

Residents who were able to avoid contracting COVID-19 still had to contend with prolonged social isolation, which experts say can have detrimental effects on an individual’s mental health and wellbeing. The relaxation of visitation restrictions is intended to alleviate that suffering.

“We are excited to announce these new visitation guidelines after a year that was filled with so much hardship,” said DSHS Assistant Secretary Sean Murphy. “Thanks to the effectiveness of the vaccine, infection control procedures and previous visitation restrictions, we are now seeing a steady decline in COVID-19 cases at our facilities.”

Frequently asked questions about indoor visitation are answered here.