SC family says new nursing home visitation rules don’t go far enough

Most SC nursing homes still not allowing families to visit loved ones

CLOVER, S.C. — Margaret and John Martin were inseparable to the very end. Their children have pictures of them holding hands, side by side in a nursing home.

John Martin died last month after four years at White Oak in Rock Hill. After COVID-19 hit and shut down nursing homes, his loved ones only saw him face-to-face once, two days before he died.

“My dad left this world Aug. 13, two weeks ago thinking his children had abandoned him,” said Carolyn Clark, John Martin’s daughter.

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She went to the facility two or three times a week to see her parents, but it was always through a glass window or a door.

Neither of her parents could talk on the phone anymore and both suffered some dementia. She didn’t always know if they knew she was there.

Her father often begged her and the rest of the family to come inside.

“He was forever going to the doors trying to pull them open, saying, ‘Come in. Come in.’ I’d say, ‘Daddy, we can’t.’ He’d say, ‘Why? Am I in jail?’” Clark told Channel 9.

Some would think Clark would be relieved that the state of South Carolina recently eased restrictions on nursing home visits, so she can see her mother now. However, she’s not.

“I really think they can do better,” she said.

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The changes announced on Tuesday allow outdoor visits only, which means facilities will have to create spaces for that. Those spaces would have to be safe from the weather and distanced from other visitation areas.

Visits can only last 15 minutes unless you have a negative COVID-19 test within five days; then, you get an hour to spend with a resident.

Visitors must be screened, wear masks and have their temperature checked. There must also be enough staff to bring the residents outside, monitor the visits, and disinfect all surfaces before and after visits.

Visits will be suspended if there are any new COVID-19 cases in the nursing home within 14 days.

Clark won’t be able to hug her mother, because she must stay six feet away.

She questions why there are so many rules for visiting families when nursing home staff can leave for lunch, live their lives normally, and still come in and out of the facility, while dealing with residents every day.

“There’s no difference. Those people are exposed to the same things I am as their daughter,” she said.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control began working on a plan in June to allow families to visit nursing homes. The department held off when cases soared over the summer.

DHEC approved the plan for outdoor visits because of the lower risk of spreading the virus outdoors than indoors. However, nursing homes must work out how to set everything up and follow strict health guidelines.

If they choose to allow outdoor visits, they must first submit a written plan to DHEC before that can happen. That plan must include daily screening of residents for COVID-19 symptoms.

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