Hennen: Should the federal government be in charge of the rights of our nursing home residents?

It’s time they got their rights back

Scott Hennen.jpg
Columnist Scott Hennen
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The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t as much of a concern these days – people are not wearing masks, hospital capacity is manageable, and previous variants are becoming less deadly every day. While the public is no longer required to wear masks to protect themselves, people in nursing homes are still abiding by rules set out by the federal government. That’s ridiculous.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, CMS — the agency of the federal government that oversees the Medicare and Medicaid programs, is still “highly recommending residents wear masks.”

To be clear, COVID-19 cases have increased in the past several weeks across the country. But yet, I’m not required to wear a mask, and my super producer, Chris Larson, who is a nursing home resident, is required to wear a mask. Ask yourself if that is fair.

At what time does the federal government’s overreach get to the point of violating a nursing home resident’s rights? Throughout the last two years, during the COVID-19 pandemic, haven’t our nursing home residents suffered enough?

One area of concern during much of the pandemic was the lack of visitation – as CMS, for the longest time, had very strict guidelines in place regarding visitation; to the point of shutting it down in nursing homes with an outbreak of COVID-19 among either residents or staff. The CMS definition of an outbreak, by the way, was one case of COVID-19 among either residents or staff.


But in early 2022, all of that changed. CMS updated their guidance to read that “Facilities must allow indoor visitation at all times and for all residents as permitted under the regulations.” So now, regardless of COVID-19 status within facilities, all residents are allowed visitation.

It is very hard to fathom that, throughout the last two years, many residents across the country lost their lives without a family member in their presence. It is even harder to fathom that, with the changes made by CMS, there are still people who are not able to be with their family members – especially at a very difficult time, such as in their final days.

Recently, on The Chris Berg Show (heard on The Flag, AM 1100 in Fargo and AM 1090 in Williston, Watford City and Tioga), Chris shared a story about an assisted living facility resident who was in their final days on this earth. Their spouse tested positive for COVID-19 and was not allowed in to be with their dying husband of many years because of the COVID-19 diagnosis, and the way the federal regulations are written.

Should a dying individual have to be alone in their final moments on this earth? Absolutely not. It is disheartening to hear that this is happening in this country – let alone in our beautiful state. I am encouraged, however, at the quick action of the North Dakota Nurses Association. President Tessa Johnson said, on Wednesday, that the association had already discussed the matter at length, and that they would be following up on the situation, as a compassionate caregiver bill had already been passed.

Please, let our nursing home residents have their rights back – it is time!

Scott Hennen hosts the statewide radio program “What’s On Your Mind?” On AM 1100 “The Flag”, KFYR AM 550, AM 1090 KTGO “The Flag” and AM 1460 KLTC. Email him at

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.


Opinion by Scott Hennen
Scott Hennen hosts the statewide radio program “What’s On Your Mind?” On AM 1100 “The Flag”, KFYR AM 550, AM 1090 KTGO “The Flag” and AM 1460 KLTC. Email him at

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