After growth of Facebook page, Gov. DeSantis creates task force for next steps for caregivers during pandemic

Families across Florida are unable to see their loved ones face-to-face, as a ban on long term care visitation nears the five-month mark.
Published: Aug. 7, 2020 at 3:51 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 7, 2020 at 8:47 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Since early July, the Facebook group Caregivers for Compromise has gained thousands of followers. Its creator, Mary Daniel, has mobilized caregivers and started a statewide movement.

Families across Florida are unable to see their loved ones face-to-face, as a ban on long term care visitation nears the five-month mark.

Daniel’s desperation is something many Big Bend and South Georgia families know first-hand.

WCTV talked with two families who said if things don’t change, their loved one may die of isolation and loneliness, not COVID-19.

But on Tuesday, this issue took a big step forward.

“I just want to make something very clear. I’ve looking for a real hug. I’m not looking for a virtual one,” Daniel said.

In a room with Florida’s governor, First Lady and other long-term care decision-makers, Daniel gave a voice to Florida caregivers.

"My goal is to safely and as quickly as possible with the right guidelines get us back to our families," Daniel said.

A day later, she talked with WCTV's Abby Walton about that moment.

“As I’m listening, I’m thinking to myself, ‘I have to say something. If I don’t, I’m going to disappoint every caregiver that is watching this because they’re thinking like I am,‘” Daniel said.

Before the public round table, the group met privately.

"I was able to tell some stories, very specific tales of what's actually happening. They were very attentive. All of them. Very engaged in the process," Daniel said.

The governor made it clear; visitation restrictions are necessary to limit COVID-19′s spread.

However, continuing them with no end in sight, not good for residents or their families.

"We have to figure out a way to do both. To protect the vulnerable, but also alleviate the stress, the anxiety and emotional trauma that so many families have felt," Governor DeSantis said.

The governor is now creating a task force, including Daniel, to provide safe steps towards visitation.

"I would say we're cautiously optimistic," Paul Rogers said.

That round table is a much-needed ray of hope for Paul and Susan Rogers.

“I feel like we have a voice at the table now. She knows what it’s like. She’s been through it. She’s going through, so she knows exactly how this feels,” the Rogers said.

The Rogers only interact with Susan’s mother through her facility’s window.

Over the months, the couple has watched her sink further into her dementia.

"I'm just happy we're talking about it. And now, at least, that we're talking, we're going to plan something. I feel like it's going to happen, but we've gotta do it right," Susan said.

However, not everyone is comforted by the governor's words.

Sisters Mary Ellen and Jennifer talked with WCTV’s Abby Walton back in July about their mother’s rapid decline.

We did reach out to them after the governor's round table.

They weren't able to talk on camera, but did send Abby a voicemail from their mother last week.

It said, "I'm miserable. Help me. Love you."

The sisters say they still felt a lack of urgency from the governor, saying, “We’re glad the governor is discussing this matter. However, creating committees and causing this isolation any longer will cause our mother’s death, if not physically, mentally.”

Daniel understands the sister’s feelings, but assures caregivers they are moving rapidly.

"The reality of this situation is, it's not going to come tomorrow. It's just not. And I have to realize that and I know that's not what people want to hear. But, it may happen, some of it next week. We are getting closer," Daniel said.

Now, Daniel says talk needs to turn into action to find ways to safely reconnect families with their loved ones.

So what are some of the things being discussed by the task force?

The governor saying he'd feel comfortable allowing in family members who have COVID-19 antibodies.

However, when that'll happen is still to be determined.

The governor still needs to get guidance from the Department of Health.

Another idea; outdoor visits wearing full PPE.

The task force is also looking into identifying a loved one as an essential caregiver.

States like Indiana and Minnesota are already doing this.

It basically treats that person like a staff member.

The governor says they could look into possibly folding those family members into staff testing which is already happening every two weeks.

However, Governor DeSantis stressed to the group, he doesn’t want them to get hung up on only using testing as a way towards visitation.

While point of care rapid testing is ideal, right now, so many industries are needing them that there isn't enough to go around.

The governor urging them to come up with innovative ideas that hopefully will become a template for the rest of the country.