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Compassionate Care Bill Approved In Senate

Back in June, when the number of COVID-19 cases were ebbing, state Sen. Rachel May, D-Syracuse, received a letter from a constituent.

The woman’s mother had been placed in a nursing home to rehabilitate following surgery. She died three weeks later — not from COVID-19, but from three separate infections that had set in after the surgery. The woman didn’t blame the nursing home staff for her mother’s death.

She blamed COVID-19-related isolation and the fact that she was unable to visit her mother to pick up on problems that nursing home staff members may have missed. It’s a situation May worked to address with S.614, which authorizes and regulates visitation of compassionate care-giving visitors at nursing homes and residential health care facilities.

“Since then I and all of my colleagues have been hearing almost daily from people in our districts and across the state who have tragic stories about isolation in nursing homes,” May said on the Senate floor earlier this week. “People are dying of isolation. They’re dying because they are depressed. They’re dying because they’re refusing to eat. They’re dying because they have some underlying condition that isn’t being picked up by the staff because they are so overworked. They’re dying because they have cognitive decline that is rapidly accelerating as a result of their isolation.”

S.614 was approved unanimously in the state Senate. It needs state Assembly approval before it can be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for approval.

If approved, the state Health Department will develop guidelines to allow personal care visitors at nursing homes and residential health care facilities. Patients would be allowed to have one caregiver, and that caregiver would be exempt from general prohibitions on visitation. The state will create guidelines to suspend or limit compassionate caregivers and set the frequency and duration of visitation, and sets forth the total number of such visitors allowed in a facility at any one time.

Senators voted on the same day Cuomo announced expanded guidelines for nursing home visitation. The Department of Health recommends that visitors take a rapid test before entry into the facility, and DOH will provide rapid tests to nursing homes to facilitate their ability to test visitors on-site and at no cost. Visitation continues to depend on the nursing home facility being free of COVID-19 cases for 14 days and the facility is not currently conducting outbreak testing.

At a minimum, regulation for compassionate care visitation will require visitors to follow safety protocols similar to those of staff or personal care visitors and that all compassionate care visitors shall be restricted to one room for purposes of visitation.

“This bill would create a system where they could designate one or two people to come in and be personal care visitors on a regular basis to see them, to pay attention to what’s going on with them and to raise their quality of life,” said May, who sponsored S.614. “I want to thank statewide Senior Action and AARP and all of the advocates who have told just heartbreaking stories about this issue. I want to thank the governor also, who in the last couple of days has changed the regulations about nursing homes to make it easier for people to get in, which is a great step and I welcome it. But this bill will make it a permanent thing that there will be a system for people to have visitors.”

Sen. Pete Harckham, D-Peekskill, credited May with her steady leadership on nursing home and aging issues, particularly in the wake of the way COVID-19 has been handled in nursing homes.

“While some have resorted to demagoguery, Sen. May has provided thoughtful and responsible leadership on these issues and I thank her for that and particularly for this bill,” Harckham said. “We talk a lot about our students and their social and emotional well-being and how that’s been impacted during COVID and why we need to get them back to school. It’s also so vital in our long term care setting and particularly with people with cognitive disabilities. They have seen their family members deteriorate throughout this isolation and that’s why this bill is so important.”

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