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CNY nursing homes allow more visitors, state legislators call for long-term reform

Joe Patrick visits his parents Donna and Norm.

Nursing homes in New York state can now allow more visitors in their facilities, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo, expanded the guidelines for visitations. Some state legislators say long-term reform of the nursing home industry is also needed.

Loretto, the largest system of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in central New York, was able to resume visitation at most of its facilities this week. Families can schedule 30-minute visits, once a week. Visitors are encouraged to be on time. They still need to wear masks, will have their temperature checked and will meet in a designated visitation area. Twenty percent of residents in a facility can now have visitors at any one time. One of the biggest changes, says Julie Sheedy, chief marketing officer at Loretto, is that Loretto will start administering COVID-19 rapid tests to visitors.

“That test piece has been a barrier for some of our families, having to pay to have a test done, work through the logistics of scheduling a test,” Sheedy said. “We’ll be able to do those on site.”

She said it’s been very emotional for families and residents to have in-person visits again. More than 86% of nursing home residents at Loretto have received the COVID-19 vaccine. But only about 44% of staff have been vaccinated. Sheedy thinks some workers were initially nervous.

“They wanted to see what happened when people were vaccinated before they decided to get it themselves,” Sheedy said. “Now that many staff did choose to get the vaccine and had little or no side effects, more are willing to get the vaccine.” 

Republican state Sen. Joe Griffo, who represents parts of the Mohawk Valley and North Country, said he wants to make sure nursing home residents can have direct connection with family members, beyond window or barrier visits.

“To ensure we prevent that isolation and failure to thrive that can cause further deterioration and loss of life,” Griffo said.

He also wants to see a number of long-term reforms to the industry, like designating family members as essential caregivers, utilizing connected devices like ones from Amazon or Google, and expanding the ombudsmen program to advocate for residents. He’s hopeful the Legislature can agree on a reform package. He's also calling for legislative hearings and an independent investigation into the state of nursing homes.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.