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Six months of window visits and still not able to visit? First Coast caregivers hope to see family in care facilities after governor's orders

On Sept. 1, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an Executive Order opening up some visitation in nursing homes for the first time since the pandemic began.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — "I'm angry. I'm tired," says Jessica O'Bryan, whose mother is in a nursing care facility in the greater Jacksonville area. Her mom has dementia and O'Bryan hasn't been allowed in to see her for more than six months because of the pandemic.

O'Bryan says she should be allowed in to see her mom now. New state rules apply to her as an essential caregiver, who provides "emotional support." But, she says, she's called over and over and the wait is frustrating. 

"My mom is fragile,"  she says, adding that her mom has to wear house slippers because her toenails have grown so long shoes don't fit. 

On Sept. 1, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an Executive Order opening up some visitation in nursing homes for the first time since the pandemic began. The governor says he knows it's critical to the health of the elderly, even though the state has needed to protect them for all these months from COVID-19.

Now, though, a governor's task force of health experts and nursing home leaders, plus caregiver Mary Daniel, created a detailed plan to allow some visitors in for visits.

Daniel is the Jacksonville wife who took a job washing dishes so she could go inside her husband's memory care facility and see him. She tried window visits, "but he would just cry," she says. 

"There is no way to explain to someone with dementia why he has to watch me through the window, get in my car and just drive off," she explained.

Credit: Daniel

After Daniel's story aired on First Coast News, it went viral and got the attention of the governor.

But Daniel is hearing from many families upset now. She created a Facebook page called Caregivers for Compromise Because Isolation Kills Too. More than 10,000 people have joined in the last several weeks.

They were excited about the governor's new rules, but now Daniel says the question is whether nursing care facilities will "welcome them with open arms" or "slam the door in our faces again as they have for the last six months."

Daniel says the nursing facilities 'should have been prepared" for this opening because they knew the task force was crafting changes. And, she says, families are being told incorrect information, such as they will need to pay for their own COVID-19 testing.

Credit: Daniel

Daniel suggests two actions if you're trying to get in to see a loved one:

1) Read the governor's executive order so you know your rights

2) File a complaint if you think you should be allowed in and you're denied. The task force has set up an Ombudsman system to help families with that issue and others. 

You can find the executive order and other resources on caregivers4compromise.com.

We reached out to several nursing care facilities to get their response.

Angela Youngblood, Executive Director at Rosecastle Memory Care in Jacksonville, says, "We're working night and day" on the procedures to allow family members back in to see their loved ones. She says she understands, adding, "if it were my mom," she'd be anxious to see her, as well. 

Part of the delay, she explains, is for safety reasons. Her staff has undergone training on CDC guidelines for PPE, etc., but the families wanting to come in for visits are needing to watch the safety videos. She says her goal is to have visits -- under the state guidelines -- begin this Tuesday, Sept. 8.

At Cypress Village, First Coast News asked what their timetable is now.

We received this email statement:

"In this rapidly changing COVID-19 pandemic we understand the importance of sharing accurate and timely information with our residents, families, employees, and members of the media.

This past week, Governor DeSantis’s order No. 20-009 was released allowing visitations to assisted living and nursing homes.  Although we are anxious to reopen our community for family visitation, we must continue to act with caution.  Currently we are reviewing the new order and developing our policies with the guidance of AHCA and Leading Age.

We will be communicating these policies to our residents and their family members along with our associates as our primary constituents.  Please feel free to reach out with questions by email and we will share information with you as it becomes available."