‘It was really hard’: Families hope nursing home vaccine mandate will keep doors open for visitation

Coronavirus

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Families with loved ones in nursing homes are relieved after Governor Cuomo announced all nursing home staff will have to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Not only have thousands of nursing home residents died to COVID-19 over the past year-and-a-half, but outbreaks can often shut down nursing homes, keeping families from seeing their loved ones inside. 

With this new vaccine mandate, families hope there will be more protection against the virus, allowing them to see residents more. 

Pat Muir is part of the Elder Justice Committee from Metro Justice, a group that advocates for those in nursing homes. Her 90-year-old father has dementia and has been in Highlands Living Center in Pittsford since the start of the pandemic, something that has been tough. 

“My dad is absolutely the sweetest, kindest, most accommodating gentleman you would ever want to meet. He never complains. But he is also very sociable. So to be in a facility not to be able to see his family in person, not to be able to engage with the other residents, not to have activities, not to have communal dining, it was really hard for him,” Muir said. 

Muir said her family spent time with him over video call or visiting outside windows trying to brighten his spirits, but it wasn’t the same. 

“It was tough. It was really hard and lonely,” Muir said. “I think there were times when he just kind of wanted to give up.” 

Muir said Highlands Living Center just recently had to restrict visitors due to COVID-19 and that wasn’t the first time. 

“He was going to the doctor, he was getting x-rays. We thought that he had broken his ankle, and we couldn’t get in there to find out what was going on. That’s scary,” Muir said. 

However, with this new vaccine mandate for nursing home workers, families believe hope is on the horizon. With more staff vaccinated, families believe there could be less outbreaks. 

“You’d like to think that if everybody there is vaccinated, that that lowers the risk for everybody. And hopefully, that means they stay open for visitation, they can have activities, they can enjoy some quality of life,” Muir said. 

Jean Wells’ mother has been staying at Hurlbut Nursing Home on East Henrietta Road since March of 2020. Wells says she is in support of more staff getting the shot, especially with the delta variant spreading. 

“It’s something that should be guaranteed when we place our loved ones in their care… that the utmost protection would be taken place,” Wells said. “I think we even have to be more hyper vigilant now than we were before, because before we just knew it was everywhere. So we were so cautious. Now we’ve become a little cavalier in that, ‘oh, we’re protected,’ so we’re not so cautious.”

Wells says her mother has cognitive issues and if she caught COVID-19, it could be extra difficult for her. 

“In my mother’s case, when you have dementia, you don’t know when you’re exposed, you don’t know if somebody coughs, that that could be an issue for you. And you couldn’t even tell me that that might have happened because you have no knowledge of how to express that,” Wells said. 

When Wells isn’t able to go and see her mom due to virus outbreaks, she said it can also have an impact on her health. 

“To have a possibility of that to cease again, it’s just so personal, you can’t even explain the pain that causes it, “ Wells said. “It’s like losing a loved one permanently. I mean, because it is grieving for that loss.”

Since the Governor’s vaccine mandate, there’s been some concerns over staff who don’t want to get vaccinated leaving the industry and causing staffing shortages. Wells said she isn’t concerned about this right now. 

“I don’t think it’s as big as the problems as it would have been a couple months ago, because I think the staff that chooses to be there now chooses to be there. And this is where they’re dedicating their time and where they want to be,” Wells said. “I believe that in this environment, if people leave this job, that they’re going to find it tough on where else they’re going to go because these mandates are going across industry and everywhere else.”

As of Monday, 68% of the state’s 145,500 nursing home workers are fully vaccinated. That means one in every three nursing home staffers is unvaccinated. 

Under Governor Cuomo’s mandate, nursing home staff have to have their first vaccine dose by Monday, Sept. 27. There will be narrow exceptions for medical and religious reasons. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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