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Nursing home visitation still very limited for desperate families

Jennifer Lewke
Updated: September 16, 2020 08:55 PM
Created: September 16, 2020 04:53 PM

NEW YORK (WHEC) — New York State has finally loosened the restrictions for families looking to see their loved ones in nursing homes.

A facility now has to go 14 days without a new case of COVID-19 instead of 28 days in order to resume limited in-person visitation.

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Visitors are required to produce a negative COVID-19 test from the past seven days, submit to a health screen, wear a mask and properly social distance and many families are finding out the hard way that those restrictions may be even worse for their loved ones than window and virtual visits.

Kim Brown’s mother Anita has dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Brown and her sister used to visit her every day but since the pandemic hit, they’ve only been able to do window visits at her nursing home in Rochester and it’s been heartbreaking to see their mom’s deterioration.

“I just keep saying, ma, ma, ma I love you, Ma, over here, I'm here... she doesn't even know we're there,” Brown explained.  

On Tuesday, after six months, Brown was finally able to do an in-person visit. She was initially ecstatic but the excitement turned on a dime.

“I knew I wasn't going to be able to touch her but I didn't realize how torturous and agonizing that it was actually going to be. I couldn't fix her oxygen, I couldn't touch her arm, I couldn't pull her sleeves up to see if she has bruises, I couldn't check her out for myself… the nurse comes in and he can touch her, the director comes in and he can touch her, the social worker comes in and he can touch her. I sat there for an hour sobbing, behind my mask over 10 feet away, just looking at her be non-response,” she recalled.  

It’s a helpless feeling that countless families, who’ve been fighting so hard to get back in to see their loved ones, will be experiencing in the coming weeks during their first in-person visits.

Kim was so heartbroken by her visit, she went home and made posters saying, “Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Zucker, let me hug my mom before she dies” and marched in front of the home for hours.

“I guarantee, as soon as you go through what I went through, you're going to be standing on the corner of your family members nursing home with a sign begging for some reform on this,” Brown tells other families.

Of particular annoyance to her and other family members with loved ones in nursing homes is that visitors must now present a negative COVID test from within the past seven days. Nursing home employees are also required to be tested once a week and can touch residents but they cannot.  

In a statement, a spokesman for the NYS Department of Health tells News10NBC, "Wearing masks and social distancing have proven to be among the most successful COVID prevention measures and close contact is too risky to jeopardize anyone's health.  While we understand the anguish this virus has caused nursing home residents and their families, by adhering to the DOH visitation guidance nursing homes are taking the proper steps to protect residents from COVID-19." 

Brown says without close contact, her mother’s life is in jeopardy too.

“You want me to have a COVID test commissioner? I'll have a COVID test, you want me to stand on my head 10 times? I'll stand on my head 10 times. Whatever I need to do to see my mom and hold her and let her know we're there and we love her before she dies,” she said.


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