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Cuomo signs law granting families increased visitation to nursing homes

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Family members of nursing home residents — who have largely been cut off from seeing loved ones in facilities thanks to the coronavirus — cheered a new law granting them increased visitation rights.

The “Essential Caregivers” Act — sponsored by state Sen. Rachel May (D-Syracuse) and Assemblyman Harry Bronson (D-Rochester) — signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo late Monday expands the federal definition of “compassionate care” visits, which right now only allowed on an emergency basis if a resident is very sick or dying.

Cases where individuals have shown a marked decline in physical, mental or emotional wellbeing — including reports of depression, cognitive decline, weight loss or other changes in physical or mental health in residents — would warrant family visits under the new law.

Family members have been limited to FaceTime or window visits over the better part of last year, after the state shut down all non-essential visits from family and friends to nursing homes on March 13, 2020.

Adam Sternbach, right, embraces his 89 year-old mother Maryann Sternbach for the first time in over a year inside the Hebrew Home at Riverdale on March 28, 2021 in the Bronx.
Adam Sternbach, right, embraces his 89 year-old mother Maryann Sternbach for the first time in over a year inside the Hebrew Home at Riverdale on March 28, 2021 in the Bronx.
AP

They have argued residents have declined in health due to isolation from loved ones for long periods of time. 

Although last week, the embattled state Health Department — which has been criticized for being too restrictive when it comes to visitation standards — did lift lockdown standards allowing residents to receive visitors.

“People don’t go to nursing homes to die, they go to nursing homes to get the care that they need, that supports the family care, and that’s why my husband is in a facility because I needed the support. I don’t have the option of bringing him home,” Marcella Goheen said Tuesday morning during a Zoom press conference.

Her husband, Bobby Viteri, 66, has lived in Manhattan’s Isabella Geriatric Facility for the last four years, he has a rare degenerative disease that prevents him from speaking, eating or moving on his own. 

Melvin Goldstein, 90, glances at pictures of birds, left, and a fish, his 13-year-old granddaughter drew for him as a gift as his daughter Barbara Goldstein shares them with his during a family visit inside the Hebrew Home at Riverdale on March 28, 2021.
Melvin Goldstein, 90, glances at pictures of birds, left, and a fish, his 13-year-old granddaughter drew for him as a gift as his daughter Barbara Goldstein shares them with him during a family visit inside the Hebrew Home at Riverdale on March 28, 2021.
AP

Goheen also filed a lawsuit against the home last fall in state supreme court seeking increased visitation rights, and has a court hearing scheduled for next month.

“He has a condition that needs full care, and I need that nursing home. I need that nursing home to be quality care.”

“This bill recognizes that the family are a huge part of that care, if not an essential part of that care, [an] integral part of that care, [the] main part of that care in partnership with the aides and the nurses,” she added.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, along with his daughter Michaela Kennedy-Cuomo, arrives at an event at the new Settlement Community Center in the Bronx on March 26, 2021.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, along with his daughter Michaela Kennedy-Cuomo, arrives at an event at the new Settlement Community Center in the Bronx on March 26, 2021.
AP

The newly signed legislation would codify these visitation standards into New York’s public health law.

The bill becomes law in 45 days time, requiring the DOH to lay out specific guidelines for facilities throughout the state to follow. 

Over 15,000 individuals have died of confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases in adult care facilities since March 2020, per state records.

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Janice Hill

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