Until March 2020, Joanne Gordon visited her 81-year-old mother at St. Ann’s nursing home every day, just like she had during the 12 years her mom lived there. Since March, Gordon says she had only seen her mother a few times in person, along with Zoom calls and window visits.
“We had those few days with her and because she got better we were no longer able to come and visit her on a regular basis,” says Gordon.
Then in August, her mother's health declined. Gordon has returned to her daily visits, but it's because her mother is now in hospice care. But for much of the year she was like the thousands of caregivers waiting to see their family members but couldn't because of the pandemic.
Those families can soon visit their loved ones in nursing homes now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that nursing homes visitations will resume Friday in counties with COVID test positivity rates below 5%.
Anne Marie Cook, president and CEO of Lifespan, says several families contacted her before the announcement. Cook says regulations have changed multiple times throughout the year, which has made it difficult for families.
“Nothing is the same as having your family come visit you and it's impacting people’s mental health and physical health,” says Cook.
COVID-19 has created a challenge for many long-term care facilities, Cook says, and many were already struggling to maintain adequate staffing levels.
“People that work have gotten sick. They have to quarantine. A lot of people have gotten the vaccine but not enough,” says Cook.
MaryDel Wypych, co-chair of the Elder Justice Committee of Metro Justice, says caregivers can’t properly advocate for their loved ones from outside the facility, so being able to physically enter the nursing home makes a difference.
“They’re not able to see in person how they're loved one is doing or even talk to the staff as they would be able to do on a regular basis," says Wypych, adding that Metro Justice would like to see the restrictions lifted to allow family members to be able to assist with the daily care.
Gordon, a WXXI employee, says that St. Ann’s has been good at updating family members as the state guidelines for visitation changed, but it was still difficult to get in touch with staff on her mother’s floor. She says that lifting some of the restrictions will be a big step for caregivers and residents, many of whom have been apart for almost a year.
“They may never have seen their loved ones again. Those people would just die alone," says Gordon.
Under the updated guidelines:
- Testing is not required for visitors in counties with a test positivity rate below 5%.
- Visitors will only need to be tested within 72 hours before entering the facility in counties with a positive rate between 5% and 1o%.
- The number of visitors must not exceed 20% of the resident census
- Visitation is banned if a county’s test positivity rates exceeds 10%.