“I don’t think you can explain it,” said Lisa Meehan of South Windsor. “It’s been one of the hardest things we’ve ever dealt with.”
It's been nearly a year since Meehan and her sister have been allowed to hug their 80-year-old mother, Maura, a resident at Riverside Health and Rehabilitation Center in East Hartford.
“I would love to be in the same room with her,” she added.
As the state’s COVID-19 numbers continue to move in the right direction, there’s hope that more people will soon be able to visit their loved ones in nursing homes.
“We’re really hoping to see something within the next few weeks,” said Mairead Painter, Connecticut state longterm care ombudsman.
Strict federal rules have kept the doors closed at some Connecticut nursing homes since last spring. The winter spike in COVID-19 cases severely limited the opportunities for in-person visits at some other long-term care facilities in recent months.
“The pandemic did require aggressive efforts to prevent the spread in this very vulnerable population,” explained Matt Barrett, CEO of the Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities. “Under no circumstances were visits ever completely not allowed in Connecticut nursing homes, but let’s be clear they were very severely restricted.”
Those rules, handed down by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services do not allow indoor visits if a county’s positivity rate is over 10% or there’s an outbreak at the facility.
“One staff member, one resident has a positive case and that pauses visitation across the board,” said Painter.
Now, the availability of a vaccine could change that.
The current federal guidance does not take into account the positive impact of the vaccine. In Connecticut, 90% of nursing home residents and 65% of staff have been vaccinated.
“We’re just hoping to see more access. The availability to have those in person indoor visits. Less physically distant so people can have a conversation,” said Painter.
Nursing home advocates say mask and capacity restrictions will likely continue but hope vaccinated visitors may be allowed inside a resident's room and to touch their loved ones again.
“You want to hug your mom, you want to hug your child,” said Chadderton. “They haven’t touched their family member for a year almost, a year, a year they haven’t been able to hold, they haven’t been able to hug."
Although in-person visits have been allowed, many facilities struggled to meet the criteria as COVID--19 rates climbed.
With the exception of what’s known as compassionate care visits for end of life situations, Riverside Health & Rehab hasn’t held a single indoor visit since last March.
“When they first closed the building I said, no they can’t do that, they can’t keep our families out. Oh yeah, they had to. To protect them, and still yet it came,” said Chadderton, who hopes to implement their indoor visitation plan starting on the 17th, as long as none of her staff or residents test positive for the coronavirus.
The vicious cycle of asymptomatic cases among staff members forced the facility to get creative to keep families connected. When the weather no longer allowed for drive up visits they turned an old glass vestibule into a space for private window visits.
“This is great. This is the closest we’ve been. She can see our faces and she recognizes us and she can hear us,” said Meehan.
While she longs to no longer be separated from her mother by a pane of glass, Meehan said she’s grateful to be able to be this close to her again.
"It’s something we didn’t expect to happen, and we love it,” she said.