FLORIDA — “They’re not letting us in, one week later and they’re not letting us in,” said Mary Daniel, who’s now on a mission to reunite Florida families separated when the pandemic forced nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the state to lockdown.
“I’m telling them, ‘do not let them get away with this. You cannot let them just manipulate you. They’re not going to follow the Governor’s orders,’” explained Daniel who first made headlines months ago when she took a job as a dishwasher at the long term care center where her 66-year-old husband, Steve, lives.
But one week after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed an order ending the 6-month lockdown in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, thousands of Florida families desperate to get in to see their loved ones are reporting that they are still being kept out.
“It feels like I’m being punished,” said Marty Dunn of Winter Haven.
Dunn’s older sister has Alzheimer’s. Dunn hasn’t seen her sister since the assisted living facility where she lives was forced to stop accepting visitors in March due to the Coronavirus. Dunn has been calling the facility since last week trying to get answers on when she will be able to visit her sister. To date, the facility has only allowed Dunn to stop by for window visits for 15 minutes at a time.
“I just want to be communicated with,” said Dunn.
Families around the state have complained about the same thing — facilities not allowing them in and not telling them when they will be allowed to come visit.
“What we’re getting is ‘no,’” explained Daniel who has been hearing from frustrated family members all weekend. “They’re saying ‘no, we’re not doing that.’ They’re telling us, ‘we don’t know the rules or what the guidelines are,’” said Daniel.
The state’s order limits visitation and rules depending on whether you’re a compassionate caregiver, essential caregiver or general visitor. Daniel who is also a member of the Governor’s task force that helped develop these rules said she’s getting so many calls and messages, she recently posted a video on Facebook explaining to families how to fight back.
“It’s incredibly important that we know more than they know,” Daniel said in the video she made on Saturday advising families to read the Governor’s order and the 14-page report issued by the task force.
Daniel is also asking families to fill out a survey she created on her group’s Facebook page about what they’re being told by facilities. She plans on sharing the results with Governor DeSantis and Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA), which oversees nursing homes and assisted living facilities around the state.
In a call with facilities two days after Governor DeSantis signed the final order last week, AHCA Secretary Mary Mayhew recognized most facilities will need time to coordinate visiting plans, but warned not to take too much time.
“The expectation is that you are moving along with a sense of urgency to allow visitation,” said Mayhew.
In an email, Kristen Knapp, spokesperson for the Florida Health Care Association, stated that members “are working toward opening.” Knapp added, “visitation shuts down if a facility has one case of COVID within the building so it’s important all the steps are in place to ensure the safety of residents.”
Marty Dunn just wants to know when she can see her sister and, after 6 months, finally give her a hug.
“Hopefully the hug will say to her, she’s there again,” Dunn said.
“There’s no reason in the world people shouldn’t be in by the end of this week,” said Daniel.