JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla — The message: "Isolation kills, too!" can be seen on a show of bright yellow signs, impossible to miss as you drive past them in Jacksonville Beach.
On the 300 signs are the names of loved ones either living in isolation or who have died while isolated in a senior care facility in Florida during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the state's restrictions on visitation.
The signs are going on a road trip across the state of Florida, from Jacksonville Beach to Tallahassee, Orlando and West Palm Beach. Organized by the group Florida Caregivers for Compromise, the purpose is to demonstrate the need for an executive order allowing family members to visit their loved ones who have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
"We believe it’s time to discuss and answer this question - ONE YEAR, TWO SHOTS, NOW WHAT?" the group said in a news release.
Mary Daniel, leader of the Facebook group, Caregivers for Compromise, says, "We've been patient. But March 13 marks the year anniversary of the lockdown. And we would like to see our facilities open back up."
Daniel, you may remember, is the Jacksonville wife, who took a job as a dishwasher so she could see her husband in his memory care center. Her story went viral. She formed the group, Florida Caregivers for Compromise - because isolation kills too!, which now has thousands of members.
Daniel says she's gotten the governor's permission to put the signs on the grounds of the state capitol building in Tallahassee. After that, the traveling yellow signs will move on to Orlando and West Palm Beach.
Daniel says now that seniors in long-term care facilities have been offered the vaccines, it's time to allow visitation, some of which was already called for by Gov. Ron DeSantis, but not carried out across Florida.
Daniel says, "Currently, compassionate caregivers can go in to see loved ones, but many nursing homes and rehab facilities are not allowing that, and so even though I get to see my husband every single night, there are literally tens of thousands of people who cannot do the same here in Florida. We want the governor to issue a new emergency order so we can all get in to see our loved ones."
Below is the full statement from Daniel's group:
"Visitation restrictions in place since March 13, 2020, meant to protect a vulnerable population, have resulted in wide-spread devastation as a result of the extreme weight loss, despondency, and rapid cognitive decline that comes from life in isolation and loss of desire to live. While Florida has been fortunate that Governor Ron DeSantis has led the nation in allowing Essential Caregivers and Compassionate Caregivers limited visitation in assisted living facilities, many in nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities are still being denied visitors based on individual facility rules. And all long-term care residents are being denied the ability to leave their facility without facing the cruel punishment of solitary quarantine when they return.
As an advocacy group representing thousands of residents living in long-term care facilities across Florida, we request the following considerations:
- Emergency Order 20-011 needs to be enforced by the Agency of Healthcare Administration. Signed by Jared Moskowitz on October 22, 2020, the order is currently in place but is not being enforced by AHCA, so it has been of no help to families or residents, in fact it has only helped fuel chaos and frustration for families. The order clearly states that families can remove our loved ones from facilities without quarantine but since its inception the facilities are not allowing it and ACHA is not enforcing it. It is unacceptable to have an order in place that is not being enforced. After one-year families deserve to have an enforceable foundation when fighting for the rights of our loved ones. It’s time to enforce Emergency Order 20-011.
- Post-vaccine guidance discussions need to take place with urgency and that guidance should not penalize vaccinated residents on behalf of other residents and staff members who decline the vaccine. Those residents and staff members in long term care who choose not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine assume a risk just as those who refuse a flu or pneumonia vaccine do. While the diseases and their implications are different, the premise should be the same: the rights of those who accept the vaccine are not abridged by the existence of those who decline it.
- New post-vaccine visitation directives need to be issued in clear, direct, enforceable language so that caregivers can educate their individual facilities. In the absence of clear directives, facilities make their own rules which almost always fall short of the guidelines in place. We must be able to educate them and have them face penalties if they do not comply.
- No amended or future guidance regarding long-term care visitation take effect without a public comment process involving stakeholders that include the voices of residents and their families. We are the ones who will spot the flaws in public policy at the implementation level.
The physical and mental health devastation of the isolation protocols on the long-term care population and those who love them cannot be overstated. But, with administration of vaccines, we have an opportunity to change that which this country has gradually begun to accept as normal. It’s time to determine what post-vaccine visitation looks like in a COVID-19 world."