EDITORIAL: Find a way to get family members into nursing homes

Glendale Nursing Home in May
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Glendale Nursing Home in May

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

The stories are heartbreaking.

Absolutely heartbreaking.

Elderly people trapped in nursing homes by the covid crisis, unable to visit with their loved ones, as time slips away and their bodies and spirit slowly follow.

Sons and daughters and other loved ones standing by helplessly on the outside as they watch their parents and grandparents fall into the depths of despair and loneliness without the loving care these family members could be providing.

Not only do these family members provide human interaction, they also often perform basic vital services that understaffed nursing homes can’t provide, as well as act as advocates on behalf of these residents.

In effect, they complement the care that nursing homes provide.

The coronavirus crisis has hit everyone hard, but perhaps no one harder than the residents of nursing homes and their families.

And it’s why the state needs to do more to allow families to connect with one another, while also keeping nursing home residents safe.

Unfortunately, the solution is not as simple or easy as just allowing family members to visit.

The state already allows nursing homes to admit visitors, but only if they’ve been covid-free for 14 days.

But that’s inadequate, according to family members, who say that not enough nursing homes follow even that basic standard.

Families attending recent rallies around the state, including one at the state capitol in Albany last week, said the state needs to do more to allow essential family caregivers into nursing homes, regardless if there’s a pandemic or not.

Lawmakers have been trying to help the cause.

For instance, Assembly members Angelo Santabarbara and Marianne Buttenschon, from central New York, are introducing legislation that would allow residents in nursing homes to designate individuals as “essential caregivers,” who would provide ancillary care to the resident that might not otherwise be offered by the nursing home.

According to the memo for the bill, which does not yet have a bill number, nursing home residents would be allowed to designate a primary, secondary and alternate caregiver to assist them with non-medical physical and emotional assistance.

That, according to the memo, would include “bathing, brushing teeth, room cleaning, ensuring that a resident is eating well, providing emotional support, among any other needs that a resident needs to thrive.”

To think that so many elderly people are lying in nursing home beds for prolonged periods without that basic level of care on a regular basis is difficult to imagine.

Of course, any legislation or executive action by Gov. Andrew Cuomo should ensure first that the visitor doesn’t bring coronavirus or other illnesses into the nursing homes.

In a 33-page report issued by the state Health Department in July regarding the potential causes of nursing home deaths at the height of the covid crisis, the state put the bulk of the blame for the cases on infected staff and visitors coming and going in the homes without adequate screening measures.

The report was largely maligned by the public, lawmakers and in the media because it glossed over the impact of the Cuomo administration’s decision to move elderly coronavirus patients from hospitals to nursing homes. That action was done in an attempt to clear hospital beds for new covid patients when hospitals were being overwhelmed with new covid patients.

The omission from the report has prompted multiple calls for investigations to determine the actual nursing home death toll related to the coronavirus so that officials can put together a better plan to prevent new cases.

But just because the report potentially excluded one major source of the spread of covid doesn’t discount the impact of the other potential causes identified in the report.

Remember, this is a highly contagious disease that disproportionately affects the elderly and sick, and for which their is no reliable instant testing method or effective vaccine.

If the state is going to open up nursing homes, even to a small number of essential family members, it has to put the safety of the patients at the top of its list of priorities.

The state can’t just simply relax standards for visitation and allow more family members to enter nursing homes without also enacting strict safety protocols to prevent a repeat of what happened earlier in the year.

That said, this problem has been known long enough, and potential solutions available, that further delays are not acceptable.

Vulnerable senior citizens are dying agonizing deaths, not just from the virus, but from the prolonged emotional impacts of being separated from the people who love and care for them.

And families of these residents are having their hearts ripped apart watching their loved ones suffer the physical and emotional effects of the virus and the accompanying isolation.

The state can’t allow this inhumane situation to go on another minute.

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