Hillcrest Commons Building 2 (copy)

The federal government's new recommendations on visitation acknowledge that isolation can take a severe toll on residents of long-term care facilities, such as Hillcrest Commons in Pittsfield.

After more than a year-and-a-half of stop-and-go visitation privileges at long-term care facilities, the federal government wants nursing homes to drop all barriers to visitation.

“Visitation is now allowed for all residents at all times,” the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wrote in guidance released Friday.

The guidance acknowledges that social isolation takes a toll and says residents who are aware of risks should be able to have visitors in almost any circumstance. But, for Berkshire County, those new recommendations are unlikely to make a practical difference.

In Massachusetts, the Department of Public Health already has loosened up most restrictions. Local facilities hew to DPH guidelines, rather than federal recommendations.

For facilities owned by Berkshire Healthcare Systems, the DPH guidelines mean visitations are back to pre-coronavirus pandemic normal — with a few exclusions.

“Visitors are able to come in,” said Lisa Gaudet, vice president of communications for Berkshire Healthcare Systems. “The only limitation would be, if you had positive cases on a particular unit, you’d limit visitation on that unit.”

That marks the one difference between DPH rules and the new CMS recommendations: Under the CMS guidelines, visitors should be allowed to visit even during an ongoing outbreak. But, under state guidelines, COVID-19 cases on a patient’s unit or floor should mark a pause in visitations. Gaudet said no Berkshire County facilities currently have outbreaks.

The state typically catches up to changes in CMS recommendations.

Gaudet said that life inside Berkshire Healthcare Systems facilities has changed significantly since vaccinations began. Residents can have visitors in their rooms again, provided that their roommate consents to the visit; otherwise, they can visit in the lobby or outdoors. Berkshire Healthcare Systems homes do not require vaccination to visit a loved one but do offer shots on campus, as well as rapid tests.

Staff must be vaccinated, and less than 2 percent of the Berkshire Healthcare Systems staff was let go for not complying with the mandate, Gaudet said. Also, many residents have chosen to get vaccinated.

“We’ve created, through mandate or choice, a largely vaccinated population within a nursing facility,” Gaudet said.

Francesca Paris can be reached at fparis@berkshireeagle.com and 413-447-7311, ext. 239.