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Visitation returns to nursing homes with new set of challenges and more potentially on the way

Through plexiglass barriers and windows, tearful parking-lot reunions, blown kisses and families seperated across long tables, visitation at many area nursing homes resumed last week after a more than six-month shutdown.

At San Simeon in Greenport, visitation began Aug. 27 in an outdoor area with limitations in place. According to Kelly Monteiro, director of nursing at the Greenport facility, there are four 45-minute visiting sessions daily, with a maximum of two visitors allowed per resident. The visits take place on an outdoor patio and the rules are clear: no personal contact is allowed.

“They can’t touch,” Ms. Monteiro said in an interview Thursday, acknowledging that it’s still a challenge for families. “But it’s been so nice to see.”

In the days since visitation resumed, Ms. Monteiro said families have traveled great distances, brought pets to say hello and complied with guidelines that require health screenings and face masks to enter. “It’s been a long time that everyone’s been held up here, not seeing their family,” aside from window visits or FaceTime calls, she explained.

Under state guidelines, nursing homes were able to open their doors after meeting a 28-day benchmark of no COVID-19 cases among staff members or residents.

Ms. Monteiro said while several staff members have tested positive and recovered, there were no cases reported among residents at San Simeon.

In the event a staff member or resident tests positive at any facility, state requirements mandate that visitation is shut down again for at least 28 days.

That’s the current situation at the Acadia Center in Riverhead, where visitation restarted last Wednesday but abruptly came to a halt after two staff members tested positive for the coronavirus.

In a letter to families Monday, administrator Mary Ann Mangels said the two employees are not nurses and work in separate departments. “It should be noted that they both actually had COVID a few months ago,” Ms. Mangels wrote, but they recently tested positive again and must quarantine.

Families who had upcoming visits planned will have to reschedule to when visitation resumes in at least 28 days, officials at the facility said.

Statewide, the New York State Health Facilities Association and NYS center for Assisted Living are calling on state officials to reduce the waiting period from 28 to 14 days to align with Department of Health guidelines for staff members.

“All counties in New York are currently in phase four and the need for in-person visitation has never been greater. In light of the fact that the vast majority of long-term care residents have not seen their loved ones in-person since early March and New York’s rate of positive COVID-19 tests has been below 1 percent for 19 straight days, there has never been a more opportune time to revise the State’s visitation restrictions,” CEO Stephen Hanse wrote in a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo dated Aug. 28.