Families say isolation is deadly for nursing home patients, call for more access

Three hundred signs will be placed at Festival Park in Orlando on Tuesday morning. They represent those who have died or have limited visitation with family in nursing homes.

The signs read "Isolation Kills Too."

Mary Daniel dedicated one to her husband, Steve, who has Alzheimer’s.

She says they represent 140,000 people in Florida in long-term care facilities who have had little or no visits with loved ones during the pandemic.

"Reminder of all of these people forgotten in these facilities. We just want everyone to know they’re still there."

Mary is the founder of Caregivers for Compromise. She says these signs are being displayed throughout Florida, including Orlando, in hopes of getting the governor’s attention so all facilities can go back to regular visitation now that residents have been vaccinated.

She says an order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis back in October needs clarity.

"We have an order that’s in place right now that’s not being enforced. So, every facility is literally making their own rules and it’s literally chaos out there."

We reached out to the Agency for Healthcare Administration. It released this statement:

"Governor DeSantis and the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and Florida Department of Health remain committed to protecting residents and staff of Florida’s long-term care facilities from COVID-19. The governor has made vaccinating residents and staff of long-term care facilities a priority and as of today, all of Florida’s licensed nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been offered the opportunity to have residents and staff vaccinated on-site."

In September, Gov. DeSantis asked the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) to revisit visitation restrictions in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other long-term care facilities.

In October, at the direction of the governor, the FDEM revised some of the requirements for individuals entering residential and long-term care facilities. If facilities met the visitation requirements referenced in an emergency order by the governor, then they were expected to have taken necessary actions to ensure visitors could provide essential emotional support for residents.

The AHCA statement continues, "The Agency sent an updated alert to providers to assist with expectations and questions and continues to communicate with stakeholders. Agency staff are also reviewing specific facility concerns when raised and following up to assist. Families and loved ones can contact the facility itself or the State Ombudsman for assistance addressing complaints."

Anyone with further concerns about a facility not accommodating visitation for a family member or loved one at a facility is encouraged to call the AHCA’s Complaint Administration Unit at 1-888-419-3456 or use the online Licensed Health Care Facility Complaint Form.

"For times when families cannot visit with their loved ones, the Agency, along with numerous health care associations, have assisted facilities in obtaining the means to help residents connect with family members virtually," the AHCA said.  "The state continually monitors and analyzes the situation in long-term care facilities across the state. At this time, we remain focused on providing vaccines for staff and residents at these facilities and any future changes to visitation policies will be publicly announced and made through existing emergency rules."

"I haven’t taken him out in over a year," said Lisa Warren.

She says her husband, Bill, has Alzheimer's and needs some love and a visit.

She only gets to visit twice a week for an hour by appointment only.

"I don’t have access and flexibility to see him when I want to, to just drop in at any old time like I used to be able to. There are some people that haven’t had any visitors," she said.

Mary plans to continue writing the governor, saying people are dying in isolation.

"We want to know, one year, two shots, now what? We want to open up dialogue to say what’s going to happen next."

The signs will be placed into the ground by family members at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday.