Each time Demond Meeks went to his mother’s house, he was mindful of wearing his mask and keeping a safe distance.
“One day my mom said, ‘I need a hug. Give me a hug,’” Meeks recalled.
He was about to say, ‘What about COVID?” But he stepped in and wrapped his arms around his mom.
For nearly a year, that basic act of love and connection has been denied people who live in a nursing home. With few exceptions – primarily for residents receiving hospice care – families haven’t been face to face in the same room, let alone cheek to cheek.
Meeks, who represents New York’s 137th Assembly District, is among co-sponsors of a bill that would allow a family to designate a caregiver who could enter the nursing home under the same protocols as a staff member and attend to their loved one.
Assembly A1052 would expand the definition of compassionate care visitation beyond end-of-life. Such visitation would apply to residents who showed a marked decline in physical, mental or emotional well-being.
The bill was sponsored by Harry Bronson, who represents the 138th District. Bronson announced Feb. 2 that the bill had left the health committee and is on the floor for consideration. The Senate version, S614, is co-sponsored by, among others, Samra G. Brouk of the 55th District and Jeremy A. Cooney of the 56th District.
Each bill has to pass its respective chamber and then go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his signature.
Many Rochester families have advocated for a law to allow a designated caregiver to visit in a care facility during an emergency. Meeks brings a different perspective to the legislation than his colleagues.
Before winning election, Meeks was an organizer with SEIU1199. The union represents health care workers, including certified nursing assistants and licensed practical nurses.
He said that even before COVID, staff appreciated family or friends who came to see their loved one.
“Just like you have family members that want to be present and assist their family members, the staff would look forward to relatives coming into the facility and spending time one on one with the family member,” he said. “You can have a CNA or an LPN that would be responsible for 30 or so residents at one time. To have someone come in and focus on their relative, that’s a helping hand for the staff.”
The language of the Assembly and Senate bills is the same. They would allow the designated caregiver to help with feeding and personal care such as brushing hair. The family caregiver would not handle medication or assist with showers.
The family caregiver would follow the same safety regulations as staff, including health screenings and appropriate use of personal protective equipment.
Beyond just being in the same room, the two would be able to have more than just eye contact.
“COVID has been so life-changing,” Meeks said. “A touch or a hug means so much. It’s something we haven’t been able to do. It’s something that people miss. As it relates to our seniors, it keeps them encouraged and continuing to fight whatever struggles may be. It’s something that’s needed. The love from a family member and just that encouragement goes a long way.”