Floridians Beg The State To Allow Visits To Nursing Homes Florida closed nursing homes to visitors because of the coronavirus, but unlike many states, still hasn't reopened them. Family members are begging the state to allow them to see their loved ones.
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Floridians Beg The State To Allow Visits To Nursing Homes

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Floridians Beg The State To Allow Visits To Nursing Homes

Floridians Beg The State To Allow Visits To Nursing Homes

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

For nearly five months, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and the people who live in them have been on lockdown. Many states, including Florida, have not allowed in-person visits since March. The policy was imposed to shield a very vulnerable population from COVID-19. But as NPR's Greg Allen reports, families, health care workers and elected officials say the isolation is taking a toll on the people it's designed to protect.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Kelly Belisle's story is like many who have relatives in long-term care. Her mother Rose Marie Green was living at a nursing home in Sarasota.

KELLY BELISLE: I would visit her three to four times a week. I would help with lunch. I would take her for walks in her wheelchair.

ALLEN: That changed in mid-March, when Florida's governor banned all visitors from long-term care facilities. For the first few weeks, Belisle thought the order made sense. But a month and then a second month passed, and she began making calls and writing letters to find out when she could see her mother in person. For her 88-year-old mother, hard of hearing with dementia, phone and FaceTime calls didn't really work.

BELISLE: She couldn't hear. She had no interest in it. She would see me and almost think, like, I was maybe a picture or a video, and I would be shattered. And the fact that I couldn't get in and see her - and then you're hearing, like, well, she's not eating as much.

ALLEN: Belisle found out her mother was losing weight, and there were other signs her health was declining. She fought unsuccessfully to get in to check on her mother herself. Finally, with the help of a hospice nurse, Belisle's mother came home, where she died a few days later. Belisle believes the lockdown ordered by the state played a role in her mother's decline and took a toll on her as well.

BELISLE: They need attention. They need affection. They need the connection to a loved one. And so on the outside of the glass, for the last four and a half months, it's like, oh, my gosh. Is she going to remember me? Is she going to think I forgot her? Is she going to be mad at me because I just left her there and never came back when I told her I would see her tomorrow?

ALLEN: More than a dozen states are now allowing limited visits to nursing homes, usually outside and with face coverings required. Florida isn't one of them, however. The state began discussing allowing some visits in May but put the talks on hold when cases surged. Now Gov. Ron DeSantis says cases are trending downward. He defends the strict lockdown, saying it helped save lives, but he acknowledges it came at a price.

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RON DESANTIS: That human cost, the emotional cost of having these measures in place to try to limit the spread of COVID - those costs are profound.

ALLEN: DeSantis has appointed a group that will make recommendations on how to allow nursing home visits to resume safely. One of the members is Mary Daniel, who took a job as a dishwasher in her husband's memory care facility in order to be allowed in-person visits. At a meeting with the governor recently, Daniel said families she speaks with believe the lockdown was done for the right reasons.

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MARY DANIEL: But they also are seeing the complete decline of their loved ones in their personal care, in the way that they're being bathed and - or not being bathed and having their hair cut and their fingernails clipped. And so they are feeling a sense of urgency.

ALLEN: Daniel has a Facebook page, Caregivers for Compromise, with members posting information from all over the country. She points to Indiana and Minnesota. Those states established guidelines that allowed designated caregivers who test negative for the coronavirus to visit people in long-term care. At this point, Daniel says, families will do whatever it takes to get in to see their loved ones.

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DANIEL: We'll do anything. We'll be tested every time we go. We'll wear whatever you want us to wear. I mean, there's just such desperation and helplessness that we will follow every rule we have to follow.

ALLEN: Families aren't expecting the doors to be flung open, Daniel says. But with safeguards in place, she says it's time for visits to resume. She says they need us.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF BON IVER SONG, "HOLOCENE")

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