New York families recently received some long-awaited good news with the announcement that restrictive nursing-home visitation policies were finally being adjusted. Nursing-home visits had been banned since March because of the pandemic. Since then, some residents’ friends and loved ones were unable to visit because of strict visitation rules that went into effect over the summer.
For weeks, the Assembly Minority Conference has advocated for a more fair and compassionate policy. New York state’s COVID-19 rate has significantly dropped and precautions in place have proven effective in curbing the spread of the virus. There was no rational explanation for some facilities to allow visitation while others were forced to remain apart from their loved ones. Even visitations at state prisons had resumed weeks before families could see their loved ones in a nursing home.
Under the state’s new, relaxed policy, nursing-home visitation can resume if a facility is deemed COVID-free for 14 days, half of the previous 28-day rule that made it nearly impossible for families to see loved ones in nursing homes. While the updated guidance will only allow eligible visitation in about 500 of the state’s 613 nursing homes, interaction, daily visits, and communication are extremely important for both the residents and their families.
The emotional toll the pandemic has had on residents has been enormous. For many, the lengthy absence of companionship was extremely stressful and upsetting. We listened to families advocating on behalf of their close friends and relatives. Our conference repeatedly pressed the Cuomo administration to rethink its policy and devise a better plan — one that keeps residents safe while also addressing critical mental-health needs associated with the lack of visitation.
The Assembly Minority Conference is absolutely dedicated to ensuring all New Yorkers can take care of their loved ones as we emerge from this public-health crisis. Yes, health and safety are critical, but so are the emotional and mental-health needs of nursing-home residents, their families, and all those in professional care.
I am extremely pleased the governor and Department of Health (DOH) have reversed course on this issue. However, there is still much more work to be done in order to get our state and its residents back on the most-beneficial path. Too many of the governor’s policies have been rooted in rhetoric and impulse rather than reason. Too much of his overall pandemic response has mirrored the nursing-home visitation policies — long after the state managed to tamp down the spread of the virus, uncompromising policies harmful to small businesses and consumers alike remain in place. Simply put, it is long-past time the traditional authorities given to the state legislature are restored, and end the governor’s expanded emergency powers.
Make no mistake — this nursing-home decision was a step in the right direction, but we must continue to work together to find ways to protect the interests of every New Yorker. With visitation now allowed, the governor and DOH must now address the exact number of nursing-home deaths. The repeated requests, both formal and informal, cannot continue to be ignored. Anything shy of that is a disservice to the people we have been elected to represent.
William (Will) A. Barclay, Republican, is the New York Assembly Minority Leader and represents the 120th New York Assembly District, which encompasses most of Oswego County, including the cities of Oswego and Fulton, as well as the town of Lysander in Onondaga County and town of Ellisburg in Jefferson County. Contact Barclay at email@example.com