Time is the most precious commodity in life. Once it is gone, it is gone forever. Time is a commodity that we cannot store, save, or expand. The amount of time we have on this planet is finite and it is constantly dwindling. For people who have loved ones in skilled nursing facilities, the inability to visit their loved one for more than five months has been gut wrenching. For the residents of the facilities, quite often visitations are the single most important event in their daily livings. Tragically, many nursing home residents have passed away from the virus or other causes and, due to COVID restrictions, died alone. This is just one example of why it is critical to re-open nursing homes to visitation as soon as it can be reasonably done.
An article in today’s Palm Beach Post states that a proposal to resume visitation is expected to be signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis shortly. According to the article, in order to allow visitors, the facility must be coronavirus free for at least 14 days. Only two visitors per resident could visit at a time, and each resident is permitted to name a total of five people as potential visitors. Sounds good so far, but it is all downhill from here. Shockingly, visitors would not be required to be tested. Once again, the State of Florida fails to take basic measures to protect the most vulnerable aspect of our population. In this case, the potential outcome is clearly disastrous.
The vast majority of residents of long-term skilled nursing facilities are elderly, in the end stages of life, and have multiple co-morbidities. Many suffer from diabetes, end stage renal failure, COPD, and heart disease. In other words, they are the segment of our population with the highest risk of dying from COVID. The entire country has watched news story after news story over the past months which showed how COVID has ravaged nursing homes throughout our country. Florida was not an exception. As the rate of infection is still significant in Florida, re-opening nursing homes without requiring testing is a recipe for disaster. Moreover, it exposes all of the residents of the facility to the virus, even if the residents and their families want precautions in place. As justification for the re-opening, the article stated that the seven-member task force determined that visitors that are designated as “essential care givers” can visit without social distancing and, in fact, touch their loved ones as “residents are hungry for human contact”. The tragic irony, of course, is that the close visitation may result in the opposite of “essential care”. The irony is compounded by the fact that, if a resident is infected by an “essential care” visitor, that same loved one will not be allowed to comfort the resident while they battle, and potentially die from, the virus.
Re-opening skilled nursing facilities is important to the residents as well as their loved ones. Doing so, however, should require basic, common sense, safety measures.