Caregivers for Compromise Continuing the Fight: Update on visitation

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 7:43 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Window visits and virtual conversations: For those in long-term care, these barriers were put in place a year ago as a way for families to connect while keeping COVID-19 out.

But four months into the lockdown, Mary Daniel created the Facebook group Caregivers for Compromise.

Daniel told the group about taking a second job as a dishwasher just to get inside her husband’s facility

The isolation and loneliness, she said, caused his health to decline.

Her persistence led to Governor Ron DeSantis to call a state task force. Their recommendations helped many Florida families regain in-person visitation in September.

But six months later, those visits still only happening at the facility, even though many residents are now fully vaccinated.

The reason, families say, it’s time to let up on the lockdown.

The Leatzow family are intense Uno players and haven’t let a year-long pandemic or window stop their game.

“Whatever you can do for your loved one to keep things as consistent and normal as you possibly can,” Allison Leatzow, Andy’s mom, said.

The Leatzow’s son, Andy, has mental and physical disabilities.

Fully vaccinated, his facility just gave him the okay to attend school, in person, after Spring Break.

He can also go with his family for off-property outings in two weeks.

Until then, the Leatzow’s are content to sit together outside, with just a picnic table between them.

“It means the world. It means, for the most part, everything’s back to normal,” Leatzow said.

But for families, like Mary Ellen’s, normal isn’t coming fast enough.

Her mom is in her 80′s and the effects of this past year have already left their mark.

“She has to have help 24 hours a day,” Mary Ellen said.

Mary Ellen is able to visit her mother, most days, as an essential caregiver. But her mother is ready to return to the outside world.

“Every conversation with our facility was ‘Wait until the vaccine comes. Wait until the vaccine comes.’ Well, the vaccine’s here. My mother has had both doses of the vaccine,” Mary Ellen said.

Daniel and Caregivers for Compromise crisscrossed the state last week. Their signs, printed with “Isolation Kills Too” as a way to push state and federal agencies to start easing restrictions.

“It’s time to stop punishing people inside these facilities for what people outside these facilities are doing or not doing,” Daniel said.

And as of last week, that’s starting to happen.

The CDC issuing new guidance that said fully vaccinated people can hang out indoors with no masks or social distancing.

They also said no quarantining or testing if a fully vaccinated person doesn’t have symptoms.

“I even asked recently of our location, if they would relax some of the restrictions once everyone was vaccinated. And the answer I received was, they don’t know yet. They’re having to have guidance from their corporate offices,” Sandi Poppell said.

The reason is because the CDC doesn’t regulate these facilities. That falls to CMS and AHCA.

Sandi Poppell’s husband is also fully vaccinated and living in a local memory care.

Last Wednesday, CMS followed the CDC’s lead.

CMS is now recommending indoor visitation at all times, regardless of a resident or visitor’s vaccine state with few exceptions.

CMS also said it doesn’t support a facility prohibiting a resident from leaving a facility, however precautions like vaccinations and CDC protocol need to be considered.

“There’s no reason why the executive order that’s in place right now is not being enforced,” Daniel said.

On the state level, Florida’s latest emergency order on visitation issued in October 2020.

At the time, AHCA breaking down the order further, explaining residents could leave the facility and not face quarantine if symptoms weren’t present.

However, families said enforcement of this is hit or miss.

“They want a 100% guarantee that no one visitor or resident is going to bring the COVID back into the facility and that’s not going to happen,” Mary Ellen said.

However, stories like the Leatzow’s are giving families hope that state regulators will update their rules soon, helping to put an end to a very painful year.

“I’d love to kiss my husband on the lips again. I want him to see me smile. He hasn’t seen me smile in a long time because I’ve had that mask on for so long,” Daniel said.

And there’s more good news to share.

Daniel says her facility will now allow Steve and other fully vaccinated residents to leave the facility with no quarantine when they return.

Tapestry Lakeshore Senior Living in Tallahassee will soon enact similar rules.

Now, families and facilities are waiting on guidance from AHCA.

WCTV has reached out multiple times for this story but haven’t heard back.

Governor DeSantis recently said in a press conference he’s in favor of full visitation. But he added legislation is needed so facilities aren’t constantly worried about frivolous lawsuits.

This also extends to companies with facilities across the country.

Many have policies that are harsher than Florida’s guidance.

So, while things are looking positive for residents and families, it will be a delicate balance for sure.

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