New York, NY—There is currently pending in the New York State Legislature a bill that would allow for the resumption of in-person visitation at nursing homes throughout the state, including the Coler Specialty Hospital on Roosevelt Island. A resolution was introduced during Community Board 8's full board meeting last week to vote in favor of the bill, but it did not pass. 

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer led the effort to create the Coler Task Force, which consists of local elected officials, non-profits, Community Board 8 members and nursing home residents at Coler. The task force was formed in the wake of the outbreak of COVID and its impact on Coler residents.

“There were many deaths and illnesses; it was really awful and out of that emerged this effort to try and solve, try to fix the situation there and ameliorate the conditions for the residents,” said Community Board 8 Chair, Russell Squire.

Currently, the state’s Department of Health mandates that Coler, as well as nursing homes throughout the state, shut down for 14 days when anyone, resident or staff, tests positive for the coronavirus.

But the bill pending in the State Legislature, S614B in the Senate and A1052B in the Assembly, would authorize DOH to develop regulations to allow for in-person visitation by designated visitors for nursing home residents so that a nursing home would no longer need to be entirely Covid-free for fourteen days before in-person visitation can resume.

“Whereas before the problem that the nursing homes were dealing with was too much exposure to COVID, now it’s sort of swung back in the other direction because of very, very stringent department of health guidelines that have not been updated in a while. It has been impossible to have any kind of in-person visitation for the residents of Coler,” added Squire.

Prior to the vote, Community Board 8 members expressed why they would be voting in favor of or against the resolution.

Alida Camp said that the lack of visitation has just been awful for the residents at Coler.

“Basically, they have been isolated except for a very short period of time over the summer since March…. the impact on mental health can’t be overestimated, so I think this kind of bill and our support is critical,” said Camp.

But Chuck Warren said he would be voting no because he believes that ultimately the decision to resume visitations should rest with the Department of Health as opposed to the state legislature.

“I understand the need for visitation and that’s very important, but I just object to the idea of supporting a legislative proposal that says the state should develop regulations—the state health department is the one who should be issuing the guidelines,” said Warren.

Also, Elaine Walsh objected, saying that she understood the concern of isolation at Coler, but that many elderly in the community are isolated as well during the time of Covid.

“We also have many elderly who are isolated and who are in their homes in the community, that are under the same restrictions of no visitors, and to take one group and think they’re different from those who are at home with no support staff, I think we are moving into a territory that is beyond our expertise,” said Walsh.

That prompted Squire to challenge Walsh’s assessment.  

“It’s true many of us have not seen family members in a long time, but we have essentially the ability to decide for ourselves what visitation we’re going to do out in the world. Basically, individuals out in the world are able to make decisions about what they’re comfortable with and how to mitigate the risks. The issue is that the folks at Coler don’t even have that option to be able to make that decision for themselves,” Squire said.

The final vote on the resolution was 19-18-4 (Y-N-Abstain). According to Community Board 8's bylaws, a resolution needs a majority of all those present voting “yes” to pass, not just a majority of those voting. That means that abstentions are effectively “no” votes. 

S614B is sponsored in the Senate by Senator Rachel May (D, WF-53) and A1052B in the Assembly by four co-sponsors, including Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright (D-76).  

Correction: This story first reported that the full board of Community Board 8 voted yes for the resolution. 

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