Some good news finally for those in nursing homes and those who have yearned to visit them, as the Governor finally green-lighted visitation, provisionally starting Wednesday.
In March, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he felt it in the “pit of [his] stomach” when he stopped visits to long-term care facilities. And that pit lingered through the spring and summer.
Yet as September began, he went to Jacksonville to allow a visitation “road map going forward” at a meeting of the Task Force for the Safe and Limited Reopening of Long Term Care Communities.
“The baseline law is that you have a right to visitation,” DeSantis said, laying down some requirements ahead of a move effective once the Governor officially signs off on rescinding the visitation ban at Florida’s 4,000 long-term care facilities.
Visitors must wear personal protective equipment and pass a virus screening, the Governor said. Appointments are required.
The task force recommends that homes allow family members to visit their loved ones no more than two at a time, and that they wear protective gear including masks. Facilities would need to go 14 days without any new cases of COVID-19 among staff or residents to allow the visits.
More than half of Florida facilities — 62% — have not had a new onset case since Aug. 11, said Mary Mayhew, head of the Agency for Health Care Administration, who led the task force.
The event was not without emotion, including from the Governor himself, who found himself at times struggling to finish his prepared remarks, a symbol of how wrenching the decision to stop visitation in nursing homes in March was for him.
“Many of these folks understand they have loved ones in the last stage of their life. They just want to say goodbye or hug somebody,” the Governor said, stopping to compose himself.
DeSantis’ emotion was echoed by Mary Daniel, the leader of CAREGIVERS 4 COMPROMISE, who became a hero to the tens of thousands of Floridians separated from their loved ones for these long months.
She expressed hope that despite the time elapsed, reunions would heal the hurt.
“That first conversation back in will take away the pain we’ve been feeling for the last 175 days,” Daniel said. “Gov. DeSantis’ actions will show we are the leader of this and can do it safely.”
Daniel drew national attention after she went to work as a dishwasher at a memory-care facility so she could spend time at the center with her husband. Bringing some levity to the emotional briefing, Daniel said she was giving her two weeks’ notice immediately.
“To be with them and be able to hold their hands at the end of their life,” Daniel said, was a “gift.”
“On anything you do there’s going to be some risk,” DeSantis added. “You have to weigh that risk, and it is a small risk, against the certain harm of isolation.”
“It shows that beyond this issue, you’ve got to have a can-do approach,” DeSantis said.
Task force member Michelle Branham, vice president of public policy for the Florida region of the Alzheimer’s Association, said the group “came to a great consensus in a short period of time, and believe that doing this incrementally and adjusting as needed is the way to go.”