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Running out of time: Families beg for changes to nursing home visitation rules

Jennifer Lewke
Updated: September 23, 2020 09:38 PM
Created: September 23, 2020 05:33 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Many of those with loved ones in nursing homes still haven’t been able to see them in person. It’s been six months since COVID-19 closed down visitation and while the State Department of Health has made some recent changes to the restrictions, many families still haven’t been reunited and fear they’re running out of time.

Right now, if you want to see your loved one in a nursing home in-person, the facility has to be 14 days COVID-free, a visitor must present a negative COVID-19 test from the past seven days, wear a mask and still stay six feet away.

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Joyce Smith was only able to see her mom Helen via Zoom or through the window of Helen’s room at the Friendly Home during the pandemic. Smith has been pushing for and looking forward to the day she could reunite in-person with her mom but during her last window visit.

“She had her eyes closed through the entire window visit so we sensed something wasn't going right just because we know our mother…My daughters and I was in tears,” she said.

So, when they got back to the car, her husband called the Friendly Home, “he said, what's it take to get in when we see such a decline and she said it's a team effort so they were going to go meet and then she calls me back in another minute and mom was gone,” Smith recalls.

The family never got a final hug, kiss or in-person goodbye.

“We are so physical, for a physical family and I think that broke our hearts…to not have that physical contact and I know it affected mom she just went downhill during COVID,” Smith said.    

It’s called “failure to thrive” and so many families believe their loved ones are experiencing it too. In other states like Texas, if a physician diagnoses a decline in a resident’s physical or mental health, one person can be designated to be the sole visitor for that person and not just in end-of-life situations which had been the case.

Families here in New York are urging the NYSDOH to consider some modifications to the current restrictions to allow at least one designated visitor and they’d like to ease the social distancing regulation considering they now need to provide a negative COVID test to even get in the door.

In a statement to News10NBC Wednesday, a spokesman for NYSDOH said, “While we understand the challenges this virus has caused nursing home residents and their families, by adhering to the DOH visitation guidance nursing homes have taken the proper steps to protect residents from COVID-19.  As this unprecedented pandemic evolves, we’ll continue to closely monitor the data and review reasonable requests, while also acknowledging that this pandemic is not over and people are still at risk.”


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