Nursing home visitors struggle to afford NYS weekly COVID-19 testing


CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Janet Siebrecht says when you’ve been married more than 50 years, it’s hard to live without your partner. She says it’s been a long time since her husband was able to come visit her in the Fort Hudson Health System nursing home.

“My husband would come every day and often he would have lunch with me. Since he hasn’t been able to come and his health is failing, I don’t get to see him as often or on a one to one,” she explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

Siebrecht also says even though her daughter lives nearby, COVID-19 bans on nursing home visits still hit their family hard.

“I had to see my daughter through a glass window, which I have not had to do since she was born when I had to look at her in the nursing room in the hospital, and that bothered me a lot,” she says.

That’s why Siebrecht was so excited when Fort Hudson got approval in August to restart visitation when New York State made the first move to ease restrictions. However, the Department of Health’s latest mandate took effect September 24. It requires visitors to have a negative COVID test within seven days to see their loved ones. Now, Siebrecht says she feels cheated.

“For that little time that we do have left, they are robbing us for that personal touch,” she says.

She says the new limitation makes things difficult for her daughter and grandchildren who are on strict work schedules. She also says she’s scared what dangers this new requirement may pose to her husband’s health.

“He’s having to go into places and picking up who knows what. Because of his failing health, I personally am a little concerned about him being in contact with a lot of sicknesses that he might not be otherwise,” Siebrecht explains.

“This new requirement is actually pushing people out of their safe, isolated state in their home. Truly, probably the only trip that they would make on a weekly basis would be to the nursing home to see their loved one,” agrees Fort Hudson Nursing Administrator Amanda Waite.

Dr. Jon Berg’s father lives in a Rensselaer County home. Already, his insurance through the VA refused to cover weekly testing.

“It’s just unbelievable. This is a necessity which is mandated by the government, and that’s what insurance is all about, so I don’t get why they’re not covering it,” Berg says.

He says he needs to be in the home every minute he can. He says his dad has late stage dementia, so they’re truly running out of time to spend together.

“We were told a few months ago that he has a few weeks to live,” Berg explains. “Nursing home residents and the family members have been bullied ever since this COVID thing began, and this is now just another form of them saying ‘nursing home patients don’t count’, and it’s just absolutely infuriating.”

Meanwhile, the Fort Hudson home is in Washington County. Waite says visitors in more remote and rural areas have had an even tougher time both finding tests and being able to afford them.

“They don’t have a primary, when they’re answering a CVS questionnaire, they are not triggering for a test, and the only alternative that they have is to drive 50+ miles to SUNY Albany to get tested. So that speaks volumes to in the North Country, that there truly isn’t an infrastructure,” she explains.

“With Friday being the first day that we were able to see the impact of requiring testing, only 20 percent of those visitors that were pre-scheduled able to come and see were able to come and see their loved one,” Waite goes on to say.

She also adds there’s little option for administrators at private run homes to offer to those who’s insurance won’t cover weekly COVID testing.

“None of us in administration in the nursing home can order a test for a visitor, and the encouragement that we’ve had to provide, which is very minimal, is try to utilize your primary care provider to help you navigate this new requirement,” Waite says.

Both she and Siebrecht say they hope NYS will consider other options that respect how truly essential nursing home visits are to families.

“The state, understandably, is being really cautious when it comes to visitation, because there is a fear that there is going to be a risk for COVID to get back into the facilities. We know that’s devastating. We can’t deny that, but in the same respect, we have an obligation to our residents to ensure connectedness with their loved ones,” says Waite. “The CMS guidance that was published as recently as September 17 speaks to the fact that states really should consider the prevalence in a community and that should guide whether or not visitor testing should be required.”

“People were not meant to live like this. People need that contact and we are just not getting it, we’re not,” Siebrecht says.

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