State’s ‘inhumane’ nursing home visit policy has families frustrated

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And the state seems unwilling to budge on the 28-day quarantine period every time someone tests positive at a nursing home, resulting in some families going half a year without seeing their loved ones.

Beverly Noody has not hugged or kissed her mother since March as strict state rules have made it nearly impossible for some families to schedule in-person nursing home visits in the Covid-19 era.

“Beverly, I want to come home for good,” wrote her mother in an emotional letter.

“I don’t know how to get out of here. This is for good. I wish I could get out of this place. I would do anything to get away. I was told today this is forever. Do you know how I can get away?”

News 4 Investigates interviewed four families that haven’t seen their loved ones face-to-face at nursing homes since the pandemic resulted in statewide lockdowns by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. They are all at wits’ end and believe the state could be more lenient with them on the policy that prohibits in-person nursing home visits for four weeks each time a resident or employee tests positive for the disease.

The policy is meant to keep people safe and reduce the Covid-19 positive rates in nursing homes, which were devastated during the height of the pandemic. In fact, some believe a separate Cuomo order played a roll in the high death tolls at nursing homes across the state, despite a state report that absolved him.

But these families say the visitation policy is having a terrible effect on their elderly loved ones, who have gone without face-to-face contact for half a year, with no end in sight.

Regardless, the state seems unwilling to budge, according to the Empire State Association of Assisted Living, a nonprofit agency that advocates for assisted-living providers and is trying to get the state to reopen hair salons in these communities.

“This one semblance of a return to normalcy for our seniors would have an enormously positive impact on their quality of life,” sad the group’s Executive Director Lisa Newcomb. 

“And when it comes to easing the rule that visitation for all residents must shut down for 28 days if there is a staff member or resident that newly tests positive, there are still many assisted living communities that don’t qualify.  The state continues to have a more rigid rule than the CDC.”

Kristen Squillace got the good news last week that she could finally go visit her father at Terrace View on Thursday.

By Tuesday, she was devastated again when the nursing home notified her that another person tested positive for the coronavirus. As a result, she will wait another 28 days before she gets a chance to see her dad in person.

Although Cuomo announced in July that visitations at nursing homes would restart, the 28-day rule has been tough on some nursing homes. A recent survey found that 77% of nursing homes statewide have been unable to open for in-person visits yet under the restriction.

“We have been pushed back now four times since those doors opened,” Squillace said.

One problem with the rule, Squillace said, is it treats all nursing homes equal. But they are of different sizes and quality.

In other words, they are not all equal, she said.

For example, Terrace View has some 500 workers, compared to some other nursing homes with half that number of workers. To her, the odds are stacked against the larger nursing homes that someone will test positive for the disease.

“So, we are at a point that we don’t know what to do,” Squillace said.

“My dad is 90, he has dementia. When we Facetime him daily, it has been a struggle.”

Noody said her mother will turn 94 years old next week. She has been at Premier Genesee Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Batavia since June.

She had a window visit with her in August, but there is no conversation through a sealed window, she said. There are no hugs, either.

“I know everybody’s scared to let Covid into a facility, I get that part of it,” Noody said.

“But these people are locked away looking at the same four walls. They have no visits from family. I’m not questioning anything that the nursing home is doing. I’m just frustrated with the lack of compassion on the government’s part.”

Patty Nicotra’s mother is legally blind, unable to watch television or read a book at Father Baker Manor nursing home. Her mother turns 89 next week.

Nicotra said her mother’s only joy was the family visits and they did so four to five times a week before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

“It’s really not a good situation,” she said.

“Even the outdoor visits are really not the answer.”

The families suggested the state could reduce the number of quarantine days from 28 to 14, which is what the federal CDC recommends.

In addition, they want the state to allow in-person visits if they get tested themselves and wear protective equipment, such as gloves and masks.

But the state seems unwilling to listen.

The New York State Health Facilities Association, an organization that advocates for nursing homes, wrote a letter to state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and Cuomo asking that they revise the policy.

Stephen Hanse, the president and CEO, said the state’s one-size-fits-all approach is not working. He, too, asked the state to reduce the quarantine days down to 14.

The strict policy also seems to have a negative impact on nursing homes, he said.

“Many individuals and their families do not want to enter long-term care facilities if they are not going to be able to have in-person visits with their loved ones for an extended, unknown period of time,” Hanse wrote to both Zucker and Cuomo.

“The State’s 28-day restriction is not just difficult for residents and families but directly impacts access to necessary care.”

For Mary Mallon, the worst happened: her mother died alone at Beechwood Continuing Care in Getzville at the age of 91, before any family could visit her in person.

“To not allow me, but to allow a priest to go in to give her the last rites, makes no sense to me,” she said.

“This way of doing it, let me be clear, is inhumane. It’s inhumane to the people in the nursing homes and to the family members.”

State Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, said many people – more than 6,000 – have already died in nursing homes from the novel coronavirus and the state policy is meant to slow that rate. So far, covid-related deaths in nursing homes have slowed considerably.

“If your facility can’t go 28 days without someone testing positive, that shows the reason why we need to keep these rules in place,” Ryan said.

“So, 14 days is the minimum but we’re putting extra days on nursing homes because of the potential for the high death rate and the devastating effects of once we get in. And remember, everybody’s got good intentions. Everybody wants to see their loved ones but they themselves don’t know if they’re transferring a disease to their loved one and once that loved one moves around a facility then it transfers again.”

Yet, the tragic scenario Mallon was dealt is exactly what the other three families fear.

If the state does not revise the rules, Noody believes there is a strong chance her mother might die without seeing her family.

“How much longer do we expect her to live?” Noody said about her mother.

“I don’t know, but I sure would be upset if she passes away in the middle of the night and we never get to see her again.”

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