Families seek nursing home access for essential caregivers

Linda Rogers

For families locked out of nursing homes throughout the pandemic, accessing and assessing their loved ones has been a challenge as the virus spread and claimed lives.

Many states designate specific family members as “essential caregivers,” granting them access to facilities even in lockdown in return for the support and care they give to residents.

But the essential caregiver designation is at “the sole discretion” of the facility director, leaving some caretakers with few opportunities to reach their loved ones during the pandemic.

The Facebook group Indiana Caregivers for Compromise was formed specifically to advocate for visitation and lobby lawmakers to protect family access. Members share their concerns about nursing home residents, whose care has been jeopardized by COVID-19.

Vulnerable populations in congregate living are at higher risk for the disease. Also, findings about spikes in reported abuse and neglect in long-term care facilities along with research on elderly isolation and depression have caused alarm among some families.

Phyllis Scantland of South Bend appealed to this group when a home denied her entry despite her status as an essential caregiver for her husband Bill. Some, like Scantland, have decided to take their relatives out of nursing homes during the pandemic.

“It was more stressful to have him at a facility than it was to have him at home,” Scantland explained.

Under a bill drafted by state Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, facilities would be required to participate in an essential caregiver program but would gain some immunity from legal liability for participation. Facilities wouldn’t be immune from liability for “gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.”

Under the proposed legislation, facilities could potentially receive a penalty for denying visitation to an essential caregiver.

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