Relatives demand nursing home visits outside New York state senator’s office

Dozens of people barred from visiting their aging parents in a state-run nursing home rallied Thursday to demand that officials grant them access to their cooped-up kin.

The group gathered outside the Westchester office of state Sen. Pete Harckham (D-Peekskill), whose district covers the New York State Veterans’ Home in Montrose.

Carol Rydell of Westbury, LI, said she and her husband travel to the nursing home every weekend for what officials call a “window visit” with her 94-year-old mom, Ilse Weinberger, through the facility’s glass front door.

“She hates the window visits and to me, a window visit is like looking at an animal in the zoo,” Rydell said.

“She just deserves more and I’m petrified that she is going to die alone — and die of a broken heart because her family is not visiting her.”

Organizer Karen Skinner said she’s been able check in with her mom, Mimi Nichols, 85, weekly via FaceTime, but complained that a window visit last week was monitored by at least five staffers who made sure she didn’t snap any photos.

“She lost so much weight you can’t even recognize her because she’s so depressed,” Skinner said.

Sen. Pete Harckham (D-Peekskill)
Sen. Pete Harckham (D-Peekskill)Dan Herrick

“I feel like I’m not even living in America anymore — they’re taking all our rights away.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned nursing home visits in March, shortly before the Health Department issued a controversial directive — now under investigation by the US Justice Department — that forced the homes to accept “medically stable” COVID-19 patients.

Official figures updated Thursday showed that 3,676 nursing home deaths have been caused by the coronavirus, with another 2,783 suspected, for a total 6,459.

The Health Department lifted the ban on visits last month, but only for nursing homes have gone 28 days without any staffers or residents testing positive for the coronavirus and received authorization.

The Montrose facility had 11 new staffers test positive, according to a DOH memo posted online Wednesday.

“We have to find some way to get full human contact with loved ones and family members,” Harckham said.

“Five, six months is a long time to not have a face-to-face visit with loved ones.”

But a Health Department spokeswoman said, “Nursing homes that are both eligible under our guidelines and have submitted plans are the only nursing homes allowed to have visitors if they choose, and in accordance with their own individual plans.”

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