Proposed bill would expand nursing home visitation

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INDIANA (WEHT)– Coronavirus itself isn’t the only thing causing a decline in the health of the elderly. Some families say strict nursing home visitation policies are are weighing on both their loved one’s emotions and health.

“We believe she didn’t die of COVID, she died due to COVID. We feel she gave up,” explained Kathy Schernekau. Her mom, Irene Blessing, was doing great until the fifth month of her nursing home restricting visitors to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak. “Of course she was almost 101, but until the pandemic she was still full of life.”

Blessing was a nurse in World War II. She passed away in August.

“Just a week before she passed, we had a patio visit with her and she was fine,” Schernekau said. “I believe she was getting depressed. She would ask all four of us children, ‘When is this going to be over?’ And she would say ‘I want to go to your house.'”

Blessing was so eager to hug her family, she would try to get hugs when the nursing home staff members weren’t looking during her family’s socially distanced visits.

“I’d say, ‘No mom I can’t. I’m afraid that if there’s cameras and if they were to see this, I wouldn’t be able to come see you any longer you know. They might restrict me.’ But I mean she wanted to sneak in a hug. That was her personality,” said Schernekau.

Being away from her family was tough on Blessing and her daughter believes it contributed to her health suddenly declining. This is a trend Indiana state lawmakers are noticing which is why Senate bill 202 is progressing in the Indiana General Assembly. The bill would require the State Department of Health to allow for nursing home visits for limited people in certain situations, even with strict visitation policies in place.

“There were some other conditions that we agreed should be included under the compassionate care. One who has dementia or is experiencing distress due to lack of visitation or failing to thrive,” said Indiana State Senator Linda Rogers. Visitors who could utilize these programs include members of the clergy and anyone who can meet the long term care facility resident’s needs.

(This story was originally published on February 3, 2021)

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