Caregivers for Compromise Continuing the Fight: From the frontlines

It’s been more than 367 days since residents and guests could mingle together at long term care facilities in Florida.
Published: Mar. 15, 2021 at 7:00 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - It’s been more than 367 days since residents and guests could mingle together at long-term care facilities in Florida.

In March 2020, Governor Ron DeSantis issued an emergency order that shut down visitation as a way to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Left inside these facilities were seniors missing their loved ones and staff, overwhelmed, trying to fill that void.

For the past year, stories of long-term care and visitation have really only come from families. Employees, contacted by WCTV, weren’t allowed to talk as fear of COVID-19 lawsuits grew.

Public opinion soon started to share the narrative that if, “Visitors weren’t allowed in, it must be neglectful staff bringing in the virus.”

That’s why now, some are coming forward, ready to tell their side.

“I was at my lowest point the first week that we had patients that were positive, and I was in the chapel on my knees and I was crying out to God,” Tina Hollie, Director of Nurses at Miracle Hill Nursing Home said.

That was in July 2020.

Only five months prior, Hollie started her job as director of nursing at Miracle Hill in Tallahassee.

Then, came the lockdown.

“That feels like a soldier going to war, knowing that this might be the day because you can’t leave the residents. you have to be there. Someone has to take care of them,” Hollie said.

So, they showed up. Even as they faced fears of their own.

“I’m thinking like, if something happens to my son, you know I’ll never live that down. If something happens to my husband, I don’t want to do this by myself. But then, I’m like, but they also, I promised that I would always help and take care of them,” Yolanda Hue, Business Development Coordinator at Tapestry Senior Living, said.

With family now literally on the outside, people like Hue know they had to find a way to maintain some sort of normalcy.

“You realize how much you mean to the residents because when our doors shut, we became family in a whole new way,” Hue said.

Staff at Tapestry Lakeshore in Tallahassee have grown close with their patients by doing things such as play doorway bingo, hosted bible studies and even doing the resident’s hair.

“We can’t replace the family role, but we certainly can provide the love and support,” JoAnne Watson, executive director of Miracle Hill Nursing Home, said.

But that love came with personal sacrifices.

“I know someone who had to put school on hold because there were so many extra shifts. I know some who have sent their children away for weeks at a time so they could work a COVID unit,” Hue said.

Watson hasn’t seen her mom in more than a year.

While quarantining from a COVID outbreak, her immediate family was forced to leave their home to stay safe.

“It’s a complete change of life and I did that specifically not to spread Covid and not to bring anything else back to the building because you just can’t. the risk is too high. the cost is too high,” Watson said.

But with daily COVID stat showing outbreaks, they said the public impression of them turned to one of neglect.

“I think in certain cases, there were maybe not the best infection control policies. I can speak for my communities and say that there is no avoiding it. I think we thought for a long time we could,” Hue said.

Even with following the constantly changing guidelines by their regulators.

“We are having more regular conversations and the expectations are clearer to me than they ever have been,” Watson said.

However, they know these policies have caused pain to residents and their families.

“The families not being able to visit, that executive order really hit hard. I would put that down as probably the worst, in the category of one of the worst experiences I’ve had in a lifetime,” Watson said.

A year later, the daily grind is still daunting.

But now, with most residents fully vaccinated, they said there’s finally something to give them hope.

The Florida Healthcare Association told WCTV that fears of contracting COVID-19, of being sued and low pay are putting them at crisis staffing levels across the state.

Just last week, the state legislature, worked to merge two bills regarding businesses, healthcare facilities and COVID liability.

If passed, it wouldn’t give blanket immunity to these places, but you couldn’t sue, just because you or a loved one got COVID-19, as long as it’s found the facility was doing its best to follow guidelines for that timeframe.

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