Families react to yet another NYS change to nursing home visitation

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CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The Schenectady County Glendale Home just got its first resident visits in Tuesday morning — just enough time for guidelines to change yet again. Tuesday afternoon, Governor Cuomo relaxed restrictions allowing nursing homes to start visitations after only 14 straight days with no positive coronavirus tests instead of 28, but not without adding all new restrictions.

“We got 10 residents and 20 family members that got to see each other [on Tuesday], and then we got word that the visitation was changing. At first we were excited, but then when we realized that you needed to have COVID tests, then it made us stop and reconsider our plan,” explains Glendale Administrator Lori Tambasco.

The new mandate added in that no one can visit a nursing home without a negative COVID test taken within seven days and no visitors under 18. That forced administrators to take on the tough job of calling families and cancelling their long awaited visits Thursday morning when the new rules went into effect.

“At first we heard we could visit like this, then yesterday they called while I was at work and said no we couldn’t, and I just burst out crying. I was just like so upset,” Kristin Flynn explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton. Flynn’s mother Betty Dietz lives in the Glendale home.

Francine Berg’s husband Steven lives in a Rensselaer County nursing home. She planned for weeks and her sister Julie Petrillo traveled all the way up from New York City to visit him on Thursday, but their hopes were quickly cut off.

“We didn’t know about the new rule until Wednesday, the day before we were wanting to visit my husband. I had no time to prepare,” Francine explains. “We scrambled that day, we got the last COVID test; however, we still were denied being able to go to see him, because the results were not the rapid return COVID tests.”

The family says they were also heartbroken, because Steven has been rapidly declining in health.

“When I got off the bus, my sister informed me that we can’t go. I was shocked and I’m very saddened. I may not see my brother-in-law again,” Petrillo says sadly.

“The effect was devastating. My husband is at the end of his life, and the minutes that he has left here on this planet are really limited,” Francine adds.

“I am a physician, and I also agree actually with the COVID testing of visitors, but we should’ve been given a week’s notice to prepare ahead of time,” chimes in Francine and Steven’s son, Dr. Jon Berg.

New York appears to have heard those cries of frustration, pain, and outrage. Late Thursday, the Department of Health amended the new rules to allow established visits at previously approved nursing homes to continue without negative COVID results, but only until September 24.

“I think that’s probably why it was done, so people could make arrangements, because if you were already doing visitation and then had to stop, that’s pretty disappointing to family members,” says Tambasco.

She says she and other Glendale staff were delighted when they could call family members back to reinstate their visits.

“I live and hour and a half away and I was on my way up here when they called again and said yes you can visit. I’m just so relieved! Even though I can’t give her a hug at least, at least I can see her in person. It’s so great,” says Flynn.

“I miss having her around now and then, and it’s very hard to be even this far away, but it’s wonderful to see her,” says Flynn’s mother Betty Dietz as the two chat socially distanced across a patio table Glendale staff set up outside the lobby for visits.

“You can almost see a smile under the mask and the excitement in their eyes that they’re finally getting to see them and to be outside and enjoy Fall while being with their loved ones,” Tambasco says. “They’ve been doing window visits and Skype and daily phone calls, but compared to seeing someone in person, it’s just not the same.”

She says the Glendale home will use the extra time to educate all visiting families on how to get a fast and reliable COVID test.

“We are going to be sending home additional information today on where they can get COVID tests with the county. We’ve also gotten many calls about people reaching out to their physicians and family doctors, they’re going to walk in sites, drive-in sites, and different clinics. They’re willing to do whatever it takes,” she says.

Steven Berg’s family says they’ve not yet heard from his nursing home about reinstating their visit now that the DOH has allowed a grace period. However, they say they’re hopeful lawmakers can be more considerate when enacting their policies in future.

“Where was the thinking in creating a rule that, from my perspective, was so quick on the draw and didn’t give any thought to the residents or the families who may be wanting to see them for the last time? What about the resident who was getting excited, possibly waiting, and then finding out, no they’re not getting a visit today. That effect is devastating,” says Francine. “They should really put themselves in the shoes of any of us out here.”

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