LUBBOCK, Texas — Mary Nichols has not seen her mother in almost five months. Her mother is immobile, in a nursing home, which has been on lockdown because of COVID-19.
“I’m fairly confident I will never see my mother alive again,” said Nichols. “But I think we are every bit as essential as the guy that comes to fix the toilet or the ladies that do the laundry. I think we are just as important as all these other non-medical people that have access to our loved ones.”
On Friday, Texas Health and Human Services released new guidelines lifting some restrictions on nursing home visitations. Some nursing homes have had to adjust, since many didn’t know these new regulations were coming.
“We had heard nothing at all until it was actually announced on the news,” Manager at Fountain Hills Assisted Living & Memory Care Tyanya Smith said.
The new regulations require any nursing home to prove no one in the facility has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days and requires staff to get tested weekly.
Families are also not allowed to touch residents, instead they have to meet outside or with plexiglass between them. But some nursing homes like Fountain Hills are already finding the regulations difficult to comply with, and will only be able to allow visitors to meet outside.
“For inside visits you have to have some kind of plexiglass booth,” Smith said. “That’s not feasible for us. It’s not a feasible option for us because of the way our facility is designed.”
Because of issues like this, nursing homes are not being forced to comply with these new regulations, and can decide to not allow visitors.
Dean of Texas Tech Health Science Center Dr. Steven Berk says these family visits could improve the mental health of patients declining in isolation.
“As COVID goes on longer and longer, those other issues have really come up to the forefront,” said Berk.
Fountain Hills is hoping to allow visitors and family members to return as safely as they can.
“There is safety and there is quantity of life and then there is quality of life but I’m encouraged that we are able to consider the kind of quality of life these people have and those things that are most important are those familial relationships,” said Smith.
But Nichols hopes the restrictions will change further and allow her to care for her mother once again.
“We are not having a pity party because we haven’t gotten to visit granny. That’s not it at all. We aren’t visitors, this is not visitation, this is essential care and it’s necessary for their survival,” said Nichols.
Nichols has also started a petition asking lawmakers to allow one family member access to see and care for their loved one in a nursing home, and that petition now has more than twelve thousand signatures.
Texas Health and Human Services also said that regulations for nursing homes might change again in the next few months.