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New nursing home visitation rules are in effect but families are still pushing for an "essential care visitor" plan.

New rules require a verified negative COVID-19 test within 7 days of visitation
Posted at 6:26 PM, Sep 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-17 18:57:39-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — Many families across New York State have not seen a loved one in a nursing home for six months because of visitation restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic that started in March 2020.

The NYS Department of Health announced this week that those restrictions are being revised to allow limited visitation for facilities without COVID-19 for at least 14 days. Previously, a 28-day guideline was in place.

In addition, the guidelines include the following:

-Visitors must present a verified negative test result within the last seven days.
-Visitors must undergo temperature checks.
-Face coverings and social distancing are required.
-Visitors under age 18 are prohibited.
-Only two visitors per resident at any one time.

The updated guidelines will allow eligible visitation in approximately 500 of the state's 613 nursing homes.


Free diagnostic COVID tests are available through Erie County by appointment only. Call 716-858-2929 to schedule. Sites are set up Mondays in Amherst, Wednesdays in Orchard Park, and Thursdays in downtown Buffalo.

For testing through Erie County sites and its Public Health Lab, individuals are told that results will be called within 3-5 days.

For people who need a paper copy of their results, they can request that either to be sent by postal mail or picked up at the Rath Building.

Tests through NYS are provided at no cost as well. Individuals who have questions about the NYSDOH test site:

Call the New York State COVID-19 Hotline at 1-888-364-3065 or visit the NYSDOH website []. []


“New York State has aggressively expanded COVID-19 diagnostic testing capacity. Testing has been available to all New Yorkers statewide since July 1. If New Yorkers go to a test site run by New York State, there is never any charge for a test. In addition, testing costs are covered by Medicaid for all eligible New Yorkers as ordered by a health care provider or by calling the NYS COVID-19 hotline at 1-888-364-3065.”

Additional Information:

  • More information on how and where to get tested is available here []. If you go to a test site operated by local governments, private companies including pharmacies and medical practices or not-for-profit organizations, you are advised to check with the testing site and your insurer in advance of being tested to confirm you will not be responsible for any fees associated with your test.
  • The visitation guidance that we introduced Tuesday is in effect today and we issued clarifying guidance available here. []
  • As stated in the guidance, “Facilities that had already resumed visitation under previous guidance may allow visitation without the presentation of a verified negative test result for a transition period until September 24, 2020. End of life and compassionate care visits are not subject to a verified negative test result but are subject to all other COVID-19 screening requirements.”


Families that spoke to 7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly said they thought the new guidelines are a step in the right direction, but they believe New York State needs to have an "Essential Care Visitor Plan."

"We are one of the only states that doesn't have an essential care visitor plan," said Marcella Goheen from the New York City area, whose 66-year-old husband, Robert, has been in a nursing home for four years.

"This separation from my husband has been unbelievably painful," said Goheen. In order to see her husband, Goheen must try to talk and gesture through a closed window from the outside of her husband's facility.

Essential Care Visitors are relatives who assist staff on a regular basis by helping a nursing home resident with daily tasks such as eating.

Goheen recently rallied at Governor Cuomo's New York City Office asking for the Governor and State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to meet with families about developing a way for families to provide "bridge-care" to a loved one inside a nursing home.

The downstate woman is also leading a statewide effort to make changes with tens-of-thousands of families in support. A web site called EssentialCareVisitor.Com was started to help families dealing with the struggles of not being able to visit a nursing home resident face-to-face.

Goheen said she fears her husband and other nursing home residents are dying of isolation after six months of not being able to see relatives in-person.


The issue of isolation and being unable to visit relatives in a nursing home is affecting families across the state. Those families feel digital-only means of talking and seeing relatives is not sufficient.

"One of the most frustrating things for me was having to tell him that he had pancreatic cancer over a FaceTime call," said Jody Falkner, whose 80-year-old father is in a nursing home in Dunkirk.

Falkner is now asking people to rally with her from 10 a.m. to Noon on Friday September 18 outside the Chautauqua Nursing & Rehabilitation Center at 10836 Temple Road, Dunkirk. Participants are asked to bring pictures or posters of their nursing home relatives that can be held during the rally.

"By attaching faces to our cause others will know we are not fighting for intangible demands but for human beings who are powerless to their surroundings … Our loved ones are people not property and we demand they stop being treated as such," added Falkner.

In addition to the rally, Falkner is circulating a petition on calling for changes to the family visitation rules.