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HARTFORD, CT — This weekend, just in time for Mother’s Day, the Department of Public Health mandated nursing homes to facilitate virtual visits between patients and their families.

The order signed by Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell requires every facility to “regularly facilitate reasonable and practical alternative means of communication between residents and their family.”

The order goes on to state: “Facilities shall contact the resident’s family, conservator or legal representative to decide together on which specific work shift the visits or technical solutions will be provided.”

Any facility unable to find the technology to make the virtual visits happen will be expected to work with Long-term Care Ombudsman Mairead Painter on a solution.

Av Harris, a spokesman for DPH, said the state distributed 800 brand-new iPads Saturday to 213 nursing homes to facilitate the visits. The money used to purchase them was from a pool of funds from civil penalties assessed on nursing homes. The account is managed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Previously, DPH said virtual visits were encouraged but not required.

Nora Duncan, executive director of the Connecticut AARP, said they have been advocating for virtual visitation since March 20, and they are glad it’s finally happening.

“Hundreds of people signed our petition on this issue and we are getting daily emails and calls from nursing home families who have been desperate for this kind of visitation,” Duncan said. “We appreciate the tremendous work being done by staff at nursing homes across the state. This situation has been tragic on so many levels.”

Representatives of the nursing home industry said these virtual visits were already happening with some frequency.

“Today’s nursing home Executive Order mirrors the extraordinary practices nursing homes put in place immediately in response to the challenging, but necessary visitor restrictions,” Matthew Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities and Mag Morelli president of LeadingAge Connecticut, said Saturday. “Our nursing homes have recognized from the beginning the importance of these integral family communications. Nursing homes understand that residents and families are struggling during this time of no in-person visitation and they have been creatively providing alternative means of communication.”

Nursing homes have been hard hit by COVID-19.

According to the state, last week there were 6,008 positive cases in 160 of the state’s 215 nursing homes and 58% of all deaths associated with the virus were nursing home patients.

The state is releasing nursing home data every Thursday.