BUFFALO, N.Y (WKBW) — The Western NY region is preparing to head into Phase Three reopening that includes personal care services and indoor dining. But families who have not seen a loved-one in-person at a hospital, nursing home, or rehab facility, since the pandemic started in March 2020, are wondering why they haven't heard any plans for restarting visitation yet?
"I have no idea if and when I will see him for a long time because he has a long road ahead," said Cindi Stiegler from Elma. Her husband, Arnie, is a double-brain cancer survivor who has a hard time speaking. "Sometimes not being able to communicate the simplest needs," explained Stiegler.
For nearly a month, the heartbroken wife has been unable to see her 68-year-old husband in-person because Arnie is moving between hospitals and a nursing home rehabilitation facility. COVID-19 visitor restrictions are still in place in New York York State.
"I worry about him constantly. To the point of losing sleep," Stiegler told 7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued federal recommendations for restarting visitation during Phase 3 reopening by states. Those included protocols such as making sure a facility did not have a new Covid-19 case in 28 days, had proper staffing, and was able to provide screening of visitors and residents daily. The recommendations also required weekly testing of staff for Covid-19.
Ohio is one state that is restarting outdoor visitation this week. However, New York State is keeping its visitor restrictions in place until further notice.
“We've said from the start that protecting our most vulnerable populations including people in nursing homes and adult care facilities is our top priority, which is why we issued guidance [protect2.fireeye.com] restricting visitors to long-term care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, except for imminent end-of-life situations. The Department recognizes the importance of communication between residents of these facilities and their loved ones. This is why we have issued guidance [protect2.fireeye.com] requiring facilities to provide other methods to meet the social and emotional needs of residents, such as video calls, assigning staff to serve as the primary contact to families for inbound calls and conducting regular outbound calls to keep families up to date. This guidance, which was created to protect our vulnerable nursing home population, should continue to be followed until further notice,” said NYS Department of Health spokesperson Jeffrey Hammond.
"We are as anxious, as all of our families are, to have them come back to our facilities," said Chuck Hayes, Vice President of Marketing & Communications for Elderwood. Hayes said his staff is amazed at how "resilient" older residents are in dealing with the Covid-19 situation.
Elderwood has undertaken a dedicated effort to make sure residents stay connected to family using video calls and internet technology. Hayes admitted that it is more difficult dealing with individuals who have cognitive impairment and don't understand why family members are not coming around. "We have social workers and therapists who work directly with that population to keep them engaged," added Hayes, who said staff try to keep residents busy with activities to minimize down-time.
Elderwood facilities are now putting together plans for visitation that include rules for health safety concerning residents, staff, and visitors. However, those plans cannot be put into effect until they are approved by the NYS Department of Health after the department issues its own rules. When will that be?
"We haven't heard. They told us to be patient and that it is coming," said Chuck Hayes.