Bill seeks to ease adult care restrictions

New legislation seeks to allow a designated family member to visit nursing homes, assisted living facilities on lockdown during COVID-19

David Robinson New York State Team
Dorothy Biedenbach, 100, photographed at Highland Hospital in Rochester during her COVID-19 recovery. She had family visits at the hospital, but moved on Aug. 1 into Monroe Community Hospital's nursing home, where visitation has been blocked from resuming due to state policy, her son Richard said.

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Pressure is mounting on New York officials being urged to ease restrictions on visitation at nursing homes and assisted living facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Empire State Association of Assisted Living, a trade group representing about 300 adult care homes and related facilities, issued a statement Tuesday imploring Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Health Department to revise vitiation rules, which currently require long-term care facilities to go 28 days without a new COVID case before visits can resume.

It comes after USA TODAY Network New York reported how families are concerned residents at long-term care facilities are suffering emotional and psychological trauma due to the isolation.

Further, new state legislation seeks to create an exception that allows a designated family member or associate to visit residents of nursing homes and assisted living sites, officially called adult care facilities.

“For many residents it has become a life and death issue,” said state Sen. Rachel May, D-Syracuse, who introduced the bill on Thursday.

The bill would create exemptions for personal care visitation, which involves allowing visits by a designated family member or other individual who has previously provided essential care and support with daily tasks such as eating, dressing or bathing, May said.

There is also a provision to allow compassionate care visitation when a resident suffers from significant changes in mental or psychosocial well-being as a result of isolation or other factors. Currently, facilities only allow the compassionate care exemption for end-of-life circumstances, May said.

Under the bill, the newly permitted visitors would be required to follow the same safety protocols as facility staff, who are tested regularly for COVID-19 and wear personal protective equipment.

Lisa Newcomb, executive director of the assisted living group, noted many adult care facilities cater to elderly people who want to remain active.

“Seniors move into assisted living to live, not to be confined to their room or apartment, without visitors or the basic dignity of getting a haircut,” she said in the statement, which also called for the state to allow hair salons at adult care homes to reopen.

“These activities can be done safely, keeping in mind that our residents’ mental health well-being is as important as their physical health,” she added, calling the situation “untenable.”

The group, like other advocates, wants visitation to resume at long-term care facilities that go 14 days without a new COVID-19 case, down from the current 28 days required under a July 15 state policy, which has been all but impossible to achieve for many facilities.

Cuomo has defended the 28-days policy, citing federal guidelines and heightened health risks facing frail and elderly people in New York nursing homes, where at least 6,460 residents have died in connection to COVID-19.

At least 177 deaths of residents at adult care facilities have been connected to COVID-19, state data show.