ALBANY — Desperate to see elderly and often sick loved ones who’ve been isolated in nursing homes for the last seven months due to coronavirus restrictions, family members rallied Wednesday outside the state Capitol in Albany demanding Gov. Andrew Cuomo loosen strict visitation restrictions.
Advocates like Karen Skinner and Stephanie Stewart — who lost their 85-year-old mom Mimi Nichols on Sept. 25 after she was transferred from her home at the New York State Veterans’ Home in Montrose to a hospital — argue the continued lockup is a fate worse than death from COVID-19 as residents dying of broken hearts triggered by continued isolation from family members is the true second wave.
“They don’t die of COVID they die of neglect and broken hearts,” Skinner told The Post.
Nichols was sent to the New York Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital on Sept. 15, contracted pneumonia and died of acute respiratory failure.
“I don’t know what’s worse — that she’s dead and gone or that I would still have to struggle and see her,” Skinner added, noting her mom already had lost a lot of weight, developed a UTI and a red blood cell count so low she had to have a transfusion.
Meanwhile, the VA has yet to open its doors to visitors because positive coronavirus cases from staff members continue to trigger the state’s 14-day rule prohibiting visitation following a positive test of a resident or staff member.
Rally organizer Marcella Goheen told The Post prior to the gathering her husband Robert, 66, has been in the upper Manhattan nursing home Isabella Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation.
He is a coronavirus survivor but already he has a rare degenerative disease and is unable to move, eat or talk on his own.
“I can’t have one more video chat where he’s crying, I can’t see his face like that. We’re not in March or April and this prolonged isolation is killing our loved ones,” she told The Post.
“There’s no engagement — why is there any will to live? Look at the unexplained weight loss, kidney failures, accelerated cognitive decline and you’re having broken hearts — depression leads to death.”
Nursing homes had been closed to visitors since March and were reopened in mid-July under strict COVID-19 protocols.
All 613 nursing homes in the state had to submit visitation plans outlining cleaning and safety protocols, but a strict rule requiring negative virus tests for all residents and staff within a 28-day threshold kept hundreds of homes closed.
The state Health Department revised visitation requirements on Sept. 15 following the lead of federal guidance including a paring down of the 28-day rule to 14 days, mandating weekly visitor testing requirements and instituting exceptions for end of life visits.
However, industry sources told The Post the state DOH has been struggling in trying to interpret the guidance, particularly concerning “compassionate care” visits allowed under CMS requirements in serious cases where family members need to see loved ones.
A source told The Post at least three calls between nursing home industry associations and the DOH have been canceled within the last three weeks, describing the situation as “paralzyed.”
DOH spokesman Gary Holmes defended his agency’s rules: “Our decisions will continue to be driven by data and science, and now is not the time for anybody to let their guard down. Proactive testing at nursing homes has played a crucial role in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and has saved lives.
While we understand the challenges this pandemic has caused nursing home residents and their families, the state remains committed protecting nursing home residents and front line workers from this unforgiving virus.”
“Nobody is denying the tremendous human toll this virus has had on New Yorkers, particularly our most vulnerable populations and their loved ones. However, this politically-charged narrative does nothing but a disservice to those who have lost so much during this pandemic,” he added.
Around 150 family members and advocates gathered in Albany along with state lawmakers including State Senators Jim Tedisco (R-Glenville) and Joe Griffo (R-Utica) and Assemblywoman Pat Fahy (D-Albany).
Over 6,500 residents have died of either confirmed or presumed COVID-19 cases since March according to state records.
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