New York's new nursing home visitation guidelines still keep visitors out

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The new New York State guidelines on nursing home visits go into effect on Friday, but most people will still not be able to visit their loved ones because of a long-standing COVID rule.

The new guidelines still incorporate a restriction by which if anyone in the nursing home - staff or resident - is diagnosed with the coronavirus, the nursing home cannot allow any visitors for 14 days. For most of the pandemic, it was 28 days, but the state relaxed the restriction in September to two weeks.

The restriction, however, makes it almost impossible for nursing homes to allow visitors, especially larger facilities.

Stewart Almer, the President and CEO of the Gurwin Healthcare System, which operates Gurwin Jewish Nursing Home in Commack, said the facility will not be opening to visitors on Friday.

"With 800 staff and 460 residents, mathematically, the odds are very slim that we'll ever get to visitation as long as the 14-day rule stays in place," he said.

Almer said they are finding their staff members are testing positive for the coronavirus after receiving the vaccine. Workers are tested twice every week.

Almer said the nursing home purchased tents and made other accommodations to have visitors.

"We have everything ready to go. But with 14 days, it's unlikely we'll ever get there," he said.

Almer said his 89-year-old father is a resident of Gurwin and he has not visited him out of respect to the other families.

Elise Rubin, of Commack, visits her 90-year-old mother every day outside her mother's ground floor window at Gurwin.

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Rubin said she was excited when she heard New York State may be loosening its restrictions on nursing home visits. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made the announcement last Friday.

"Then, we find out it's still the same rules," she said.

Wendy Elsen, of Nesconset, has been fighting to see her 88-year-old mother at Gurwin. Her mother is non-verbal after having a stroke.

"People that don't have loved ones in a nursing facility, they do not realize that we cannot see them," she said.

She said the new visitation guidelines do nothing to help families with the 14-day rule still in place.

"What it's saying is you're basically never going to see your loved one. You're never going to see them," she said.

Eyewitness News contacted the governor's office about when the 14-day restriction may be lifted, but no one got back to us.

Under the new guidelines, for those nursing home facilities which are able to remain coronavirus-free for 14 days, they must keep visitors to 20 percent of the resident population. The guidelines also state that visitors are strongly encouraged to have a rapid test on-site and the Department of Health will provide the tests.

Nursing home officials are encouraged to limit the length of visits and host them outside. No visits are allowed in shared patient rooms.

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