Outdoor nursing home visits in Florida appear likely

Task force meets for second time

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ task force on reopening nursing homes and long-term care facilities met again Tuesday afternoon for a second time and all members generally agreed outdoor visits amongst families, with protective precautions, are a good idea.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ task force on reopening nursing homes and long-term care facilities met again Tuesday afternoon for a second time and all members generally agreed outdoor visits amongst families, with protective precautions, are a good idea.

Family members have not been allowed to see loved ones face-to-face inside nursing homes and long-term care facilities since March, when Florida first started reporting coronavirus cases.

The Task Force on the Safe and Limited Re-Opening of Long-Term Care Facilities is charged with recommending to the governor how facilities can begin to safely allow essential caregivers and family members to visit.

Mary Daniel is an essential caregiver.

After she was denied visitation, Daniel got a job inside her husband’s Jacksonville nursing home because she was so desperate to spend time with him as he battles Alzheimer’s disease.

“For me as a wife, I want to get in there. I cut Steve’s toenails, I’ve never done that before,” Daniel said. “I’m needed.”

Daniel, along with task force members Gail Matillo of the Florida Senior Living Association, Michelle Branham of the Alzheimer’s Association, J. Emmett Reed of the Florida Healthcare Association and Mary Mayhew of the Agency for Healthcare Administration, all agreed that, if nothing else, outdoor visitation is appropriate with a normal temperature, hand hygiene, personal protective equipment and social distancing.

"The value of being outdoors is you're not in a confined space," Mayhew said.

Dr. Scott Rivkees, Florida’s surgeon general, suggested facilities should only allow outdoor visits if they hadn’t had a COVID-19 case in the past 28 days. Rivkees said he would “have to think about it.”

“If an incubation period is 14 days, we like to go for two periods to make sure there isn’t COVID in a facility,” Rivkees said. “We have more than 70% facilities that don’t have COVID, so it’s something that can be done.”

Daniel said 28 days is painfully long after not seeing loved ones since March.

“If I have to wait out for another month, it is devastating,” Daniel said. “Absolutely devastating.”

Reed, who represents nursing homes across the state, said allowing visitation will put more strain on a "staffing crisis."

“It is a very difficult to keep the CNAs and nurses, so we’re hitting our requirements but it is a serious crisis going on right now,” Reed said. “So this will add additional responsibilities for them especially if it’s formalized, so please keep that in consideration.”

Reed said cost will also be an issue - spending money to build climate-controlled outdoor facilities and paying staff to supervise visits.

Reed also said he's concerned about lawsuits if a patient contracts COVID.

Daniel fired back.

“We don’t want this to be a business decision,” Daniel said. “This needs to be a humanitarian decision.”

Daniel also didn't like the idea of a "mask monitor" inside facilities.

"I gotta tell you - if someone points at me and tells me to put your mask back on, I don't need a monitor to tell me what I can and can't do like I'm in 3rd grade."

The task force meets again Wednesday afternoon before sending any recommendations to the governor to consider.


About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.