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Defenders: Nursing home visits allowed despite rising complaints

The KVUE Defenders found complaints that some facilities are not following state orders to allow for essential visits for residents.

AUSTIN, Texas — We've heard a lot about schools, but nursing homes and assisted living centers are also faced with making decisions again on how to keep residents and staff safe.

The KVUE Defenders found complaints that some of those facilities are not following state orders to allow for some essential visits for residents. 

About a year ago, the State issued emergency orders for long-term elder care facilities to allow essential family caregivers to visit loved ones in person, and soon it will become state law.

Families locked out last year

For seven months last year, Kimberly Westbrook Reed could only visit her dad through a window.

“Now we're seeing it start to shut down again. It's very scary. It's very scary,” she said.

Time isn't the only thing they lost. Mary Nichols went 202 days without seeing her mom.

“By the time I got back in to see her, she was what she is now, an empty shell of a human being. She just lays there and has a thousand-yard stare and never acknowledges my voice or my presence,” said Nichols.

This has been a challenging couple of years for anyone with aging parents. Patty Ducayet with Texas Health and Human Services spent much of the last year helping these families.

“I'm a long-term care ombudsman here to help residents who live in nursing facilities and assisted living facilities to serve as their advocate, to help them speak up about what they need and what their rights are, to help educate residents about their rights and how to exercise them, and when they need us, to help be their voice,” she said.

Growing complaints

Once again, families are reporting problems visiting their loved ones.

“Since July 1, we've had 19 complaints that have come across the state on visitation that ombudsmen have reported, and only a couple of those have needed to be reported to HHSC for resolution,” said Ducayet.

That number has now grown to 23, and the State has four active complaints.

“Facilities are closing doors and saying they're doing it. In trying to be cautious, in an abundance of caution, they're trying to keep the residents safe, but these are in total violation of long-term care facility guidelines, emergency visitation guidelines put in place by Texas Health and Human Services,” said Nichols.

A law recently passed by Texas lawmakers will allow families to designate an essential caregiver who will be allowed in-person visits even during a pandemic. The law goes into effect Sept. 1.

Until then, emergency guidelines put in place last year remain in effect, but some families tell us they are being limited to the amount of time they can visit their loved ones.

“There has to be two hours where every day an essential caregiver can have access to their loved one,” said Ducayet.

“You do have an ombudsman that you need to reach out to. Each facility should be able to give you their name and number, to have somebody that's representing you and talking for you. But don't give up,” said Reed.

“If anyone is encountering a problem with not being able to visit and you have questions or you want to file a complaint, we really want them to call their long-term care ombudsman,” said Ducayet.

Isolation took its toll

Reed’s dad lost more than time last year – his physical therapy sessions were also cut back.

“Daddy lost a lot of strength in his legs and is now in his scooter 99% of the time,” said Reed.

He’s back to working hard and walked on his own for the first time in a year this weekend. They are still trying to make up for lost time.

“It's important that we take every second we can to make sure he gets the joy that he deserves,” said Reed.

Many families say the psychological effects of being kept away from loved ones is just as damaging.

“They don't want to be isolated. They are scared. They're scared of what would come if they get COVID. They're scared of what, you know, how physically that will affect them, but the most important thing is to be there with them in the fear and encourage them that each day is a good day and that you're there with them to get through whatever might come,” said Reed.

If you have questions, reach out to the ombudsman by calling 1-800-252-2412 or go here.


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