A year after the pandemic kept the state's most vulnerable away from their loved ones, things are changing as more people are vaccinated and restrictions begin to ease.
On Thursday, New York health officials loosened restrictions put in place 12 months ago for nursing homes and adult day programs — a relief to family members like Marcella Goheen.
"It means that after one year of isolation, our vulnerable loved ones will be reunited with touch, essential care, laughter, tears and be acknowledged and affirmed by their most important medicine: Love and family," said Goheen, whose husband is in a nursing home.
But Gov. Andrew Cuomo is still being urged to sign a bill setting nursing home visiting changes into law by lawmakers like Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, with the goal of giving families more certainty.
"The changes he's making to executive orders, they can be temporary, they can go away tomorrow," Santabarbara said. "They can be eliminated altogether. What this bill does is it codifies into law exactly what we've been talking about here."
The nursing home visitation rules end the policy of a facility being COVID-19 free for 14 days. Nursing home families and lawmakers had pushed the administration to open the facilities to visitors in recent months.
"You have to have safety protocols in place," Santabarbara said. "So there are things in place to spell out how it can be done and how it can be done safely in this bill."
Cuomo has come under scrutiny for his handling of nursing homes during the pandemic. The state's reporting of nursing home fatalities is now part of a federal investigation and has been rolled into the broad Assembly impeachment probe also underway.
Cuomo has regretted not being more forthcoming with nursing home data, but insists there was no under-counting of deaths.
And in a little noticed move, the state also loosened restrictions put in place for adult day programs. The development means support services for vulnerable people still living at home can begin again in person. Adult Day Health Care Council Executive Director Anne Hill says service providers are eager to get back to work.
"It's going to be a rebuilding year and it's going to take some time to restore the physical and emotional health of people who have gone without care for a year," Hill said.
But not all nursing homes are opening themselves to visitors just yet as some assess how to safely allow people back into their families.