BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — “They are prisoners in their rooms. They only look at four walls,” declared Kristin Squillace, East Amherst resident.
Families of loved ones in nursing care facilities continue grappling with visitation restrictions.
The COVID pandemic has left many elderly in nursing homes isolated without visits from family and friends.
Squillace said she witness a dramatic decline in her father's health when family could not visit him at Terrace View Long-term Facility at ECMC in Buffalo.
Samuel LoVullo, 91, had dementia. After some outside visits over the summer months the family was not allowed to see him due to COVID-19 restrictions.
But that changed on December 2nd when they were told he was dying.
“When we saw him on December 2nd when he looked like a completely different man,” described Squillace. “He lost a dramatic amount of weight. My dad was able to feed himself and walk in March. When we saw him in December he could not feed himself anymore. He was only on pureed foods and could not walk anymore.”
For six weeks Squillace, her mother and siblings visited each day, and say they watched his health improve dramatically.
“The doctors and Hospice even said he is not dying right now — he is not actively dying anymore because you're here,” recalled Squillace. “Being there every day — my dad gained weight. He smiled, laughed. He knew what was going on. He followed us with his eyes.”
But visits were forced to shut down again because of a positive COVID case in LoVullo’s unit. Shortly after the family was allowed back in just days before his death.
“The decline happened because he had no will — his family was gone,” Squillace explained.
Now the New York State Assembly is considering a bill that would allow nursing home residents to have two caregivers visit.
Currently limited visitation is allowed if a patient is dying.
State Assembly woman Karen McMahon, 146th district, which reaches through Amherst and Pendleton, is one of the bills co-sponsors.
“I think there's a real appetite in the assembly for reuniting loved ones at this point particularly now that people are being vaccinated,” remarked McMahon.
As more nursing home residents and health care workers are receiving vaccines, the bill is now out of committee and before the full assembly.
“Is the vaccine the game changer in the visitation rule?" Buckley asked.
“I think it can be,” McMahon responded. “I think this bill probably would have gone forward with or without a vaccine because I think people really see the importance of visiting with their loved ones."
McMahon explained the proposal would create a law that would enable a nursing home resident to designate one or two people to come and visit, but it would be subject to regulations promulgated by the state commissioner of health.
“Of course we’ve always got to be careful with nursing home residents,” McMahon noted. “We’ve had, as you know, a great number of unfortunate deaths among nursing home residents, but I think that people really want to be reunited.”
At Beechwood Continuing Care in Getzville families are allowed to visit through restricted “window visits”.
“It’s not our choice to make basically. We must adhere to the department of health safety guidelines,” stated Cheryl Wasson, director of development and marketing.
Wasson said about 90-percent of the residents and 60-percent of workers have been vaccinated so far.
Wasson noted it's been very emotional for residents and staff.
“When we do open up, it will be one heck of a celebration,” Wasson said.