The New York State Department of Health reduced the waiting period for nursing home visitations Tuesday, but some lawmakers, and family members, say more needs to be done.
State lawmakers are pushing for a bill that would designate an essential person for a nursing home resident. Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Miller says the person would be treated similar to staff, allowed to enter facilities that are closed to visitors.
"Families are essential, just like the staff is essential to go in and take care of these people in nursing homes. Family is essential," Miller said.
State health officials on Tuesday announced New York's waiting period for nursing home visits would be reduced from 28 days of being COVID free to 14. Restrictions are meant to keep vulnerable residents safe. But Democratic Senator Rachel May says the isolation can be just as bad for residents.
"A lot of people are experiencing very significant declines," May said. "The staff may be overworked or they just may not pick it up and so having visitors is healthy for the residents and not having them can be really harmful."
A lack of visitors has taken it's toll on family members like Marcella Goheen. Her husband is in a nursing home, and she's only been able to see him through video chat.
"We're losing them to isolation, failure to thrive, unexplainable weight loss, and if you have a cognitive impairment and you're not getting the visitation, you are accelerating in your decline," Goheen said. "That's science."
She said the decision to shorten the visiting waiting period is a victory.
"Six months without having energy and having a window in between was like a prison and our loved ones that are disabled, or elderly, or in there for one reason or another, they didn't do anything wrong," Goheen said.
Goheen says family members need to be have frequent visits with their loved ones, providing support for both physical and cognitive health. Having that essential person remains important.
"If another pandemic comes, residents like my husband won't be locked out from their supplemental care provider," Goheen said.
And though the waiting period has been reduced for nursing home visits, there are still strict guidelines for visits, limiting residents to two people, and they must be age 18 or older.