TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — It’s been four months since Governor Andrew Cuomo banned visits at nursing homes in New York State.
Loved ones were only able to meet outside windows or communicate over the phone. But Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin is now defying that order and allowing visitors at the county-run facility Van Rensselaer Manor.
“If we didn’t thnk it wasn’t safe, we wouldn’t do it,” he said.
As the Rensselaer County Executive, McLaughlin makes decisions regarding the county-run facility. But by opening up the outdoor only visitors area, he is now also directly defying the state ban on nursing home visits.
“It is inhumane and cruel to deny them visitation with their families. I was perfectly willing to work with the Governor. I asked for well over a month for what we can do to make visitation happen and all I got was ‘We are working on it. We are looking at the data.'”
The patio has four separate areas with six feet of separation allowing for two family members to visit with a loved one for one hour. McLaughlin said the spaces are sanitized between each visit.
The Republican also defied the Governor back in March when Cuomo made nursing homes welcome back residents who had been treated for COVID-19. At the time, Cuomo cited concerns over a shortage of hospital beds.
McLaughlin said his decision to defy that order resulted in only one case at Van Rensselaer Manor, a resident in her 90s who was allowed to return after 10 days in the hospital. But statewide, more than 6,000 nursing home residents died from the virus. Many in privately run facilities.
“Did we save lives? I have no doubt that we saved lives by doing that,” added the County Executive.
But with COVID-19 cases back on the rise and eight new cases at another Rensselaer County nursing home, Governor Cuomo’s senior advisor Rich Azzopardi slammed back.
He called McLaughlin a “two-bit politician” who has a disregard for science. And as for allowing visitors at Van Rensselaer Manor, Azzopardi added, that with 38 other states spiking, it’s a recipe for disaster. He then compared McLaughlin to Chef Boyardee.
But back on the patio at Van Rensselaer Manor, there was no denying a feeling of connection once again. If only for an hour and behind plastic.
Wednesday was the first time in months that Linda Treffiletti has been able to see her dad at Van Rensselaer Manor. They visited in a cordoned off area on the facility’s outdoor patio. No direct contact.
Both wore masks and any conversation was from either side of a clear plastic sheet.
But for Linda it was better than nothing.
“He has been here since March. This was our first face-to-face real visit with him, and it was wonderful. He looks wonderful,” said Linda.