North Florida families back with loved ones in long-term care; others still waiting

In early September, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis gave his blessing to recommendations designed to safely reopen long term care facilities.
Published: Sep. 21, 2020 at 8:55 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - In early September, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis gave his blessing to recommendations designed to safely reopen long term care facilities.

“You gotta figure out a way to continue serving the purpose of protecting people from COVID, but not shutting off all avenues of life beyond the virus,” Governor DeSantis said.

Those long-term care facilities had been shut down since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A task force set new guidelines for caregivers, as well as general visitation.

Many local families finally got that anticipated reunion after more than 180 days.

But now, almost three weeks in, some families are still waiting to see their loved ones.

“I was so excited for mom more than me. For her to have me inside of her room again because that brings a little bit of normalcy into her life,” said Blountstown native Mary Ellen, whose mother is in a North Florida long-term care facility.

That sense of normalcy is something Susan and Paul Rogers plan to bring back to her mother during their visits in Tallahassee.

“The first thing I did was I polished her nails for her, which I used to do before,” Susan said.

Caregivers for Compromise founder Mary Daniel says she’s happy visitation is finally happening.

“We’re starting to see the reunions. We’re starting to see fun pictures but I’m still, I’ve gotten two emails today of just really really sad situations and facilities are not handling them properly,” Daniel said.

Daniel says some of those miscommunications include facilities, thinking the order is voluntary.

These are problems, professional groups that serve these facilities say, they are also seeing.

“That’s been one of our biggest hurdles initially was to communicate to people, 'No, no, you have to do this,” Sandi Poreda, with the Florida Senior Living Association said.

These professional groups are now helping navigate their facilities through what they said is a big change.

“You have to remember they are trying to keep all the residents safe and that’s been their mind-set for the last six months. No COVID in our building,” Gail Matillo, with the Florida Senior Living Association, said.

That concern is something Mary Daniel says caregivers understand, however, the lack of communication by some of the facilities can make families think they’re hiding something.

She says, if they’re not, it’s time to reopen.

“We can save those people. We can with the human touch and with that comfort of knowing that we’re back. We can stop the decline and increase their quality of life immediately,” Daniel said.

That stop in decline is something Mary Ellen says her family and friends are already seeing with her mother.

“They see color coming back into mom’s face. They see pink cheeks. They see her bluer eyes. So I think other people even notice it more than I do because I saw her every day through the window,” she said.

The sisters acknowledge they pushed hard to get on the other side of that window. Now, they’re encouraging others to do the same.

“You just let them know that you’re in this and you’re not going to go away,” Mary Ellen said.

These families advise being their advocate until you finally get in.

Then, as Susan Rogers said, “I plan on just being a daughter again.”

These families are now picking up where they left off.

But now, instead of a prolonged goodbye, it’s a hug, kiss and smile.

WCTV reached out to around two dozen long-term care facilities in and around Tallahassee asking about their reopening plans: Five facilities got back with us, saying they are following the task force guidelines and seeing great results.

We have not heard back from the others.

If you’re a family that still can’t get in to see their loved one, Mary Daniel says she’s encouraging everyone to go to the Caregivers for Compromise Facebook page.

There, you can find the new emergency order, guidance from AHCA, which oversees Florida long term care facilities, and a form from AHCA to make a complaint. WCTV reached out to AHCA last week to see how many complaints they’d had in the past two weeks and how the process works.

However, in an email, they told WCTV, they weren’t able to provide that information at the time due to “a high volume of requests processing.” When WCTV asked Mary Daniel how many complaints she’s seen from her site in the past two weeks, she said it would easily add up to more than 200 complaints.

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