ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Families say sometimes they are the only ones who can get their loved ones in nursing homes to eat, sometimes they’re the only ones who can convince them to take medicine, and it’s the love and care that they give them that keeps their mental awareness sharp. That’s exactly what they say nursing home residents are not getting throughout COVID-19.
Wednesday marks seven months to the day since families could not just visit, but also step inside nursing homes and help staff care for their loved ones. That’s why they gathered in East Capitol Park to protest.
“We were able to speak for them and say to the nurses, oh I’m seeing this or that. We can’t do that, and we definitely can’t do that in a 15 minute video call,” explains rally co-organizer Marcella Goheen. “The nurses need us right now, they’re exhausted. They’re doing their best, but they can’t provide what our residents need right now, which is to receive their family.”
Goheen’s husband Bobby suffers from a degenerative neuromuscular condition. He can’t walk, talk, or even sometimes move his hand to press a call button. That’s why she says it’s so frustrating COVID keeps them separated when she knows Bobby needs her.
“He’s fading now. He’s depressed, his neuromotor [exercise] isn’t being enforced, which is what I was doing for five to six hours every day and insurance doesn’t cover that,” she explains.
Goheen founded the Essential Care Visitor group to bring awareness to residents’ rights. She says although NYS guidelines changed September 17 to allow compassionate care visits under COVID-19 regulated circumstances, many nursing homes have yet to amend their visitation policies. She adds when she and her fellow members have called NYS Department of Health, they get the runaround on how to enforce their visitation rights.
“Our loved ones continue every day, like my husband, to cry behind that video camera, and I have to tell him every day, it’s not your fault, you did nothing wrong. I feel like I’m failing my husband because I can’t get in, that I haven’t been successful at getting in,” Goheen goes on to say.
Goheen says October is National Resident’s Rights Month, making it the perfect time to push Governor Cuomo and lawmakers to pass Senate Bill S8958. It would allow personal and compassionate care visitors in nursing homes and residential health care facilities.
Carol D’Elisiis attended the rally on behalf of her mom, Catherine, in the Schenectady Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing. She says her mom’s dementia makes it hard for her to understand what COVID-19 is doing to her.
“Take my temperature, I’ll get a COVID test, I’ll wear a mask, I’ll wear gloves, put me in a hazmat suit, whatever it takes to get in there to see my mother,” she says.
“I just want to sit and cry every day thinking about her locked in there, and we just can’t get in and hug her. My worst fear is that something will happen to her and I can’t see her,” D’Elisiis goes on to say.
That fear has already been realized for rally co-organizer and Advocates for COVID Nursing Home Residents Founder Karla Abraham-Conley, who’s mother passed away October 4. She says before the pandemic, she and her father visited her mom, Rosie, in a Utica facility every day to help with her physical therapy.
Abraham-Conley says she could see in video calls her mother’s dementia was getting worse without daily contact and she was concerned low-staffing levels at the nursing home meant Rosie wasn’t getting consistent care. Abraham-Conley planned the rally in hopes to get into the home and serve her mom before it was too late. Sadly, Rosie died after a sudden rush to the emergency room.
“She had possible swelling of the brain and they told me that was caused by high sodium levels from dehydration,” she explains. “The nursing home killed my mother. They did, they didn’t feed her, they didn’t hydrate her, they didn’t rotate her so she didn’t get bedsores.”
“Every day those nurses told me my mother was fine, my mother was eating, my mother was drinking. They said, oh yeah, she’s lost weight but she’s still eating 50 percent of her food. Fifty percent isn’t going to kill her. They did nothing for my mother except lie to me. I was kind of at their mercy, because they’re telling me she’s fine. You kind of want to believe that,” she continues.
Abraham-Conley says the senate bill is her last hope to stop this from happening to another family.
“My mother wasn’t ready to die. If we can get this essential caregiver plan into executive order and then in January turn it into a law, we can prevent so many of these deaths,” she says. “We are saving the Rosies of the world and make no mistake, I want justice for Rosie.”
She adds the NYS Attorney General’s Office is officially involved in investigating her mother’s death.