“Compassionate care and just being able to touch your loved one I think means so much to them,” said Judi Bellenger of Simsbury.
Bellenger’s father, Richard Stone, was admitted into Cherry Brook Health Care Center in Canton mid-March. Stone was supposed to be there for two weeks; then he caught COVID-19. He survived but lost the use of his arms and legs.
Stone was hospitalized last month for seizures and a possible stroke. His daughter visited him in the hospital. It was the first time she’d seen him in six months.
“I got to touch him, smell him, hold his hand, I wouldn’t leave his side. I stayed as long as I could,” she recalled.
Back at Cherry Brooke, Stone still hasn’t been able to come home and he won’t.
“I just think it’s a matter of days or weeks for my dad and I want to be able to spend as much time as I can with him,” said his daughter.
Stone suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and is now under hospice care.
During the height of the pandemic, Connecticut barred all nursing home visits but at the end of August, the governor signed an executive order allowing compassionate care visits for dying loved ones.
Despite the order, Bellenger described being pushed off from one person to another to get an inside visit scheduled with her father.
“They didn’t want to let me in at all. They wanted the outside visits to take place.”
Bellenger said once she got hospice involved, the process got better.
“And then I was told I was only allowed in for a one-time visit and that was it," she said.
Part of the reason she has had limited visits with her father, according to a Cherry Brook spokesperson, is that after Stone returned from the hospital he had to follow the mandatory state-ordered 14-day quarantine.
“I understand why the nursing home did what they did,” said Bellenger. “I’m not putting them down. They’re just trying to protect themselves and the staff and the people in the home.”
However, since his quarantine has been over, Bellenger says it’s continued to be difficult to get a compassionate care visit scheduled.
“They want to keep everyone safe, but there has to be some way to allow folks in whose loved ones are dying and spend as much time as they can with them,” she said. "Per the governor’s order, compassionate care visits should be allowed as many times as the person requests it."
Although she was allowed back into see her father a second time, Bellenger said then the nursing home would only give her time with her father outside.
“Separated by a big table, both having to wear masks, no touching allowed,” she described, adding that hospice has told her her father's failing health prevents him from being moved outside.
Timothy Brown, a spokesperson for Athena Health Care Systems, which operates Cherry Brook, said it’s doing its best to interpret the governor’s orders while also balancing the safety of its residents with the desires of their families.
"We understand how difficult this time is for family members. We have always made hospice-related visits available to families inside our center, even during this crisis. We have been in touch with the family in this case and are working to address any concerns and ensure that they are able to continue visiting their loved one safely," Brown said.
Bellenger last saw her father on Wednesday. After NBC Connecticut contacted the facility and Athena, they agreed to give her the opportunity to sit by his bedside this coming Monday and promised more visits in the future.
“This might be the last time I get to hold his hand,” said Bellenger, growing emotional. “When you have someone dying whose been through so much, you just want them to be comfortable and you want them to know that they’re being remembered, they’re not forgotten.”
A spokesperson for the governor's office said anyone with concerns about compassionate care visits should contact the Department of Public Health via email at COVID19.DPH@ct.gov.