Your Stories: Nursing home visitation limits causing pain for families

Local News

CICERO, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — We are now more than a year into this pandemic, but there are still families running into roadblocks when it comes to visiting loved ones in nursing homes. There are new laws in place to make sure they’re not completely locked out, but one family who reached out to NewsChannel 9 says they are…partially.

Rita Kimak is one of six grown siblings whose mom, Alice, is staying at the Cottages at Garden Grove in Cicero. Alice is 94 years old, suffering from dementia. Typically, her family visits daily. But now, only three of them, out of their six siblings, are allowed to go inside the nursing home.

“She deserves to hold mom’s hand just as much as I do. It’s just not fair, ” said Rita Kimak, talking about her sister, Mary, who hasn’t seen Alice in five weeks. Kimak and her two other sisters are the only ones allowed to see her mom under the compassionate care law.

Right now, regular visits are on pause at the Cottages because of a recent COVID outbreak involving a few staff members and a resident. But visitation is allowed through the compassionate care law. The law was created so families never get locked out of nursing homes again…allowing visitors at all times, regardless of an outbreak.

But it’s only for certain people. The law says each resident or their legal representative can change and designate at least two visitors to see them at one time.

But Alice’s kids want to add all of their siblings, who are local and fully vaccinated, to that list.

That decision is ultimately up to the nursing homes. Alice’s family doesn’t blame those at the Cottages, knowing this is all confusing and difficult.

“If I can go to a restaurant and be with somebody like this close, and it’s okay because we’re vaccinated, but yet I can’t go sit with my mother,” said Mary Merriman, who hasn’t seen her mom Alice in five weeks.

The CEO and Administrator of Cottages at Garden Grove sent NewsChannel 9 the following statement:

“The health and safety of our residents, staff and family members is our top priority. COVID-19 continues to put significant restrictions on visitation in healthcare settings, which we have adhered to closely in order to keep residents and staff safe. Recently, we put a pause on regular visitation after learning that a few staff members and one resident tested positive for COVID. We continue to follow state and federal guidelines, which require us to test all staff and residents and pause visitation until there are no new positives, at which time we will put in place limited visitation. We apologize for the inconvenience this policy may cause families, but it is in the best interest of our residents and staff.”

Tara Zgoda, LNHA, CEO/Administrator, Cottages at Garden Grove

“If you can figure out how to get people to go to the fair or the Syracuse Mets, can’t the government make time to set aside with the department of health and sit down and figure out a way that my family can go visit my mom,” Kimak said.

After NewsChannel 9 spoke with Alice’s family, the Cottages are allowing her to add one more visitor to their compassionate care list. But the family says that their other siblings are still left to go without seeing their mother.

Along with the compassionate care law, the state recently beefed up its ombudsman programs, which serve as advocates for families with loves ones in nursing homes. If you are still being blocked from seeing a loved one, reach out to The New York StateWide Senior Action Council at (800) 333-4374.

Families can also reach out to the Regional Ombudsman Program Director at (315) 671-5108.

NewsChannel 9 also reached out to the NYS Health Department for an update on the guidelines:

“To help protect this vulnerable population from this dangerous virus, DOH has made vaccinating nursing home residents and staff a top priority.  All medically eligible residents and staff have been offered a COVID vaccine.  DOH’s nursing home visitation guidance clearly states, ‘Facilities should allow indoor visitation at all times and for all residents — regardless of vaccination status — except for a few circumstances when visitation should be limited due to a high risk of COVID-19 transmission and compassionate care visits should be permitted at all times.  As a result, all nursing homes statewide are currently eligible to reopen to visitors – while still protecting their residents from this deadly virus.‘”

Jeffrey Hammond, Public Information Officer, New York State Department of Health

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