Nursing homes struggle to reopen weeks after visitor ban is lifted

As some senior living facilities struggle to reopen following restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, relatives of loved ones are adjusting to new rules.

Mary Lessard got to visit her husband Bob for the first time in six months.  She was only allowed to see him for a half-hour on Friday, and as she was leaving, he grabbed her hand.

"He said to me, where are you going? That almost killed me because I didn’t want to leave," Lessard said, fighting back tears.

Bob has Alzheimer's and his memory care facility in Melbourne reopened this week. There are plenty of precautions in place such as wearing lots of plastic personal protection equipment (PPE).

"I wanted to see him," she said, pausing, " sorry, it’s been a long, hard six months."

As many heartfelt reunions take place, the Florida Assisted Living Association CEO Veronica Catoe said it has been difficult for some facilities to reopen after Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted the lockdown just over two weeks ago. She said many thought facilities would open immediately.

"The challenge, more importantly, was the timelines that weren’t exactly stipulated. So it was left up to the providers to come up with," she said .

It will take more staff to handle incoming visitors and disinfect rooms, according to Catoe.

"You have to be able to provide some type of supervision for these visits. You also have to make sure that you have to have the adequate staffing to do that," Catoe explained.

She said all facilities should be able to come up with some sort of plan to let visitors in by the end of the month.

"They should have a clear timeline that says we anticipate opening to this date," Catoe said, adding that families need to give facilities time to respond to their questions.

Catoe said COVID-19 testing mandated by the governor has also been lifted. Now it's up to each facility to pay for their own testing.

Lessard said she is only allowed to see her husband once a week but is grateful that at least she can be with him.

"He’s the love of my life. I really mean that. Unfortunately, this had to happen to him."