PLATTSBURGH — In the wake of requests and complaints regarding the Clinton County Nursing Home's visitation policy, Administrator Wendie Bishop said most families were satisfied with the more cautious steps her facility has taken.
Bishop was not at the Clinton County Legislature's regular meeting on May 26, where several family members of some residents spoke out against what they felt were over-restrictive guidelines.
But she later said, based on a YouTube video, that as far as she could tell, about five families were unsatisfied with the policy.
"There are 66 residents residing here and the majority of the residents and their families (90%) are happy with our visitation policy," she told The Press-Republican.
"They were appreciative that initially we took a conservative approach and kept their loved ones’ safe during this unprecedented time."
The families had pointed to 15-minute caps on visits, supervised by staff and held in the facility's dining room, and asked both for hourlong visits and more flexibility in visitor hours.
Bishop addressed the remarks made by the families at the legislature's Human Services Committee meeting Tuesday.
She said she was both happy with staff and relieved as an administrator that the County Nursing Home saw no deaths throughout the pandemic and that, of the three residents who tested positive, none had symptoms and none required monoclonal antibody treatment or hospitalization.
Bishop said she believes many of the specific requests have already been accomplished.
Since May 1, visitation has been available seven days a week. Though current hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Bishop told The Press-Republican the nursing home will attempt to meet any request.
After a 10-person cap was lifted, the number of residents allowed to have visitors in the dining room at one time was raised from three to six.
Additionally, the resident lounge and patio have been added as visitation spaces, the latter of which can be used for family members to have socially-distanced meals together.
State Department of Health guidelines instruct nursing homes to consider scheduling visits for specified lengths of time to help ensure all residents can receive visitors.
Bishop explained the 15-minute limit was initially chosen so that the staff would have time to sanitize the dining room and residents would still be able to use it for other activities.
She insisted that the facility never fully adhered to the 15-minute limit, especially if no one else was waiting for a subsequent visit.
By Friday, the nursing home had increased the base visit time for dining room visits to 30 minutes, at the legislators' recommendation.
'EMBRACE THEN SPACE'
The facility's "embrace then space" policy, which began May 12, allows fully vaccinated residents brief physical contact — a hug, cheek kiss or hand-holding — at the beginning and end of each visit, with at least six feet of social distance in between during the visit.
"The regulations allow for that to take place as long as they’re wearing tight-fitting face masks and hand sanitize prior to and after the visit," Bishop added.
The nursing home is supposed to limit visitors’ movement throughout the facility, so they check them in, screen them and bring them to and from designated visitation areas, she said.
And visits are no longer supervised, Bishop said. Rather, a staff member checks in.
State guidance also says that, if possible, visits should not be conducted in rooms shared by more than one resident. Since the County Nursing Home has limited private rooms, most residents do not have the option to host visitors in their rooms.
In-room visitation for residents with private rooms has been allowed since May 17, Bishop said. She added that those visits can take place whenever and for however long families and residents would like. The time limit is also not in place for outside visits, though residents' tolerance level and medical needs can impact visit length.
Since the nursing home can take up to 80 residents, and currently has 66, Legislator Robert Hall questioned why some empty rooms could not be used for private visitation.
Bishop explained that there are 14 vacant beds, not rooms, some of which are semi-private or quads. Some semi-private rooms currently have one person in them, and the facility continues to designate a quad as a COVID unit in case a resident tests positive and has to be isolated.
Bishop added that, per best practice, rooms are also set aside for new residents or residents of semi-private rooms being admitted from the hospital to quarantine for 14 days.
A chief complaint brought by residents' family members was what they described as a lack of communication from the nursing home.
Bishop said that, when she receives an email with a question pertinent to all families, she’ll respond in a group email, not necessarily individually.
Frequently, numerous family members will contact multiple staff members, she said, adding that she would expect that not all employees who receive an email have to respond if someone else already has.
She added that the period during the pandemic is the first time she has ever been directly contacted to respond to emails, partly because she was tagged to handle COVID-related notifications.
“I know that there are certain things that I'm lacking in and certainly, I probably could improve my communication, however, it is very difficult to respond to every email that we receive, every person that receives it.”
Bishop also pointed to how emails can come in during off hours and posited that, the more time nursing home staff spend answering emails, the less time they are doing their jobs.
Legislator Josh Kretser applauded Bishop’s efforts to keep COVID out of the nursing home, but added that patient service goes along with customer service.
“Oftentimes people just want to be heard. They know that things may not change, but it helps them to feel that they’ve been heard.”
On Friday, Bishop told The Press-Republican that a review of the communication concerns led to the discovery that "the complaint was from two specific families and is not a systemic problem for the nursing home."
"In the past, the nursing home has requested that the Ombudsman be the primary contact/mediator for one of the families and (the Ombudsman) declined. We will work with any family that feels the nursing home has not communicated to their satisfaction."
Bishop emphasized both her desire and advocacy for unrestricted visitation, noting repeated consultations with an epidemiologist and contacts with relevant agencies.
“And we’re working as best we can to ensure that everyone’s safe," she told The Press-Republican.
TALK TO US
Two residents' family members spoke at the committee meeting.
Amy Renadette largely credits her father's decline in health with how he was moved to a room where window visits could not take place, so he could not see his family.
He is now in a private room, so Renadette and her family, as of this past week, were able to see him for as long as they wanted.
“But some of these people don't have that luxury and it’s not fair. Their loved ones deserve to be loved and hugged again, and hear their family members even if they don’t know who they are.”
Dana LePage said her father has been unable to embrace her mother, who resides at the nursing home, because he has Parkinson’s disease and cannot lean down to her in her Geri chair. She added that bringing in and having a meal with her mother is not an option as she is on a pureed diet.
She expressed frustrations with both the continued need for social distancing in place due to "embrace then space" and communication issues.
“I just want them to talk to us. Communication. I want to talk and I want to visit.”
Email Cara Chapman: