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Politics and Government

Essential caregivers rally around national bill to see nursing home residents during pandemic

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Rep. Claudia Tenney (far right) with Karla Abraham-Conley and other essential caregivers and advocates.

New York state passed a law this year that allows personal caregivers to visit nursing homes, even during public health emergencies, like a pandemic. Some caregivers waited a year to see their family members in nursing homes because of COVID-19. Mohawk Valley Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford) is trying to get similar legislation passed on the federal level.

Karla Abraham-Conley of Utica said no one should ever die the way her mother did, not from COVID-19, but from neglect. 

“The nursing home allowed her to die,” Abraham-Conley said. “I had no idea my mother was being neglected. They lie to you. You call on the phone every day, you’re FaceTiming and they’re telling you she’s fine, she’s great, she’s eating, she’s drinking.”

Abraham-Conley was an essential caregiver for her mother, who had Alzheimer's. She went to the nursing home every day to feed, change and groom her. When COVID-19 first hit, she was okay with the shutdown. But then the weeks and months dragged on and she was still kept out of the nursing home. Her mother ended up having significant weight loss, was dehydrated and had a pressure ulcer. After being told nothing else could be done for her, she was put into hospice.

“I spent an entire week sleeping with her, caring for her, brushing her teeth,” Abraham-Conley said. “My mother’s teeth were black. They didn’t even brush her teeth, clip her toenails. That’s abuse. That’s neglect.”

After her mother’s death, Abraham-Conley became an activist, learned the law and helped craft the Essential Caregivers legislation, introduced in the House by Rep. Tenney. It lays out the guidelines for how someone is designated as an essential caregiver, and holds them to the same safety standards as staff. A number of similar bills have passed in different states. And Tenney said there’s a good change their bill will pass and create national guidelines and standards.

“So that if we do face another pandemic, we know that our seniors or our people in adult homes will be cared for by their loved ones, their essential caregiver,” Tenney said.

Studies show social isolation and loneliness can become major risk factors that affect older adults’ health outcomes.