Tenney touts proposed Essential Caregivers Act at Sherrillbrook Park

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NEW HARTFORD — Over the past year, stories of the deaths of individuals in nursing home facilities and the grief of their loved ones have pushed front and center in COVID-19 related news stories.

Here in New York, independent investigations are underway to examine the circumstances behind the death of approximately 15,000 residents in nursing home care during the pandemic.

Many of those deaths did not need to happen, grieving loved ones note.

In an answer to this, Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, touted the proposed Essential Caregivers Act, at a Wednesday news conference at Sherrillbrook Park in New Hartford.

If enacted into law, the legislation would permit designated essential caregivers to enter long-term care facilities, which includes nursing homes and group homes, to provide care and support to a facility resident during any public health emergency, Tenney said, adding that it would ensure residents in long-term care facilities are not left alone or without access to a family member who has been designated as an essential caregiver.

Per the legislation, individuals who maintain a steady presence in a resident’s life prior to the start of a public health emergency could be designated as an essential caregiver. An essential caregiver would need to be a family member, have power of attorney, or the healthcare proxy of the resident. 

Such access also ensures civil rights and individual liberties are not violated.

However, essential caregivers would be required to comply with safety standards.

Joining Tenney on Wednesday were individuals who lost a family member or a loved one in a nursing home or group home facility during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I support the Essential Caregivers bill because I know how it felt for mom to be isolated for 10 months of loneliness and missing her family. She got COVID from her assisted living facility from another resident who was able to go out for the day to attend a funeral but had to quarantine in her room upon return. This doesn’t prevent her from being around staff who came in her room and then passed the virus onto my mother.... My mother passed away on December 28, 2020, from COVID, and we lost almost a year of not being able to see her in person. This bill will hopefully help others not have to go through this ever again, and I can only wish we had the same chance,” stated Jill Evans, who lost her mother in an assisted living facility in December of 2020.

Others speaking were Ruth Wallace, whose mother RaeJean Wallace made local news headlines in 2020 for speaking out against conditions at The Grand, where she was a resident.

RaeJean Wallace, posted a video to Facebook describing her concerns about a lack of adequate medical care at the facility - such as unsanitary conditions and a lack of staffing - in the midst of the high point of coronavirus infections and deaths at the 160-bed The Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing facility at 801 N. James St. in Rome.

The accusations spurred a state Department of Health investigation of the facility in August 2020. 

According to a record the Daily Sentinel obtained from the New York State Department of Health via the Freedom of Information Act, “A COVID-19 Focused Infection Control Survey ...was conducted at The Grand Rehab and Nursing at Rome on 8/5/20 to determine compliance with … requirements for Long Term Care facilities. As a result of this survey, the facility was determined to be in compliance with the requirements.”

RaeJean is now no longer a resident at the facility, but is on comfort care due to an illness that worsened during the pandemic lockdown, her daughter said.

Ruth Wallace said on Wednesday that the legislation would help families keep facilities accountable in times of future public health emergencies by allowing access.

“If we don’t know what’s going on, how can we stop it?” she asks.

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