Families count down to Oct. 1, look forward to reunion with loved ones in long-term care facilities

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POWELL, Tenn. (WATE) – Some East Tennesseans will have the chance to visit their loved ones for the first time in months in less than a week.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey announced restrictions at long-term care facilities would be loosened. The changes would allow outdoor and some indoor visitation. This would only apply to facilities with at least two weeks without any new COVID-19 cases.

The changes also allow facilities to offer an essential caregiver program. They must first be at least 28 days free of any new coronavirus cases.

You’ve heard couples use the cliché “my other half” when referring to their spouses, but Charles and Betty Richmond have completed each other for 65 years and counting. “He’s part of me. We’ve been together so long. I was 13 when I met him,” Betty said. The two have not been in the same room since the onset of shutdowns aimed to slow the spread of the virus.

Charles first moved into an assisted living facility in April 2019, she said, following a second stroke. That, she explained, is already plenty to grapple with emotionally, but not having the option to be in a room together is taking a toll on both of them. Before the pandemic, she spent every day with him at the facility, getting him a blanket when he’s cold and singing to him to boost his morale.

Until she’s cleared to spend time with him in-person, she plans to stand outside his room window every day, and catch up over the phone. It’s part of her daily routine. Depending on how she feels, and the status of her blood pressure, she sometimes stops by two or three times in a day.

It’s the longest stretch of time apart from one another since Charles went to boot camp in the Marine Corps for three months. The pandemic has already doubled that amount of time. “…we’re both in our 80s, we don’t have much more life on this earth, you know. it’s took 200 of our life away from us,” she added.

She isn’t estimating the amount of days without her husband, she keeps a tally. First thing each morning, she writes the exact number of days that have passed since she was turned away from the front door in March. “It gets worse every day because I think what if he was to pass away and I’m not there, you know? I’m not there to hold his hand and tell him how much I love him. If he was to pass away, I don’t know what I’d do,” she said.

Betty is hopeful they’ll be able to safely visit in the weeks ahead. She mentioned she’d be willing to wear any recommended PPE and comply with any health measures.

Some are asking the state to move the date back.

A memo sent Jesse Samples, Executive Director of the Tennessee Health Care Association, reads: “Late yesterday afternoon, following the state’s announcement regarding visitation guidelines, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released additional guidance that is in direct conflict. THCA staff is currently working to quickly gather information for members on how to proceed with reopening facilities for visitation.

Because there is a conflict between the state’s effective date of Oct. 1 and the CMS guidance, THCA has asked the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) to provide a delay or grace period to allow facilities time to implement these new policies. THCA will update members as soon as soon as we know more from TDH.

State officials also noted Thursday any facility with new cases will have at least a two week suspension of the loosened restrictions.

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