NewsCovering Colorado


'Isolation is killing them': Colorado families beg for visitation at residential care facilities

Posted at 6:28 AM, Aug 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-12 08:28:15-04

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LITTLETON, Colo. -- For months, we've been worried about the danger of being too close together. Now, a story about being too far apart.

For Sue Smith, it's the good times with her husband of 34 years, Denny, that are getting her through these times without him.

"This is killing people. People are dying without their loved ones," said Smith, who placed her husband in a Littleton memory care facility three months ago, and can now only see him outside, six feet away and by appointment. "With the six-foot distancing, he patted a chair next to him the last visit and said, 'Come sit here.' And I said, 'I can't, I'm not allowed.'"

She said they are lucky, though, because many care facilities still don't offer outdoor visitation.

Advocates with the Denver Regional Council of Government's Area Agency on Aging said that even though CDPHE released Compassionate Care guidelines allowing families to visit seniors who are declining, many nursing homes still don't allow visitation.

"It is something we are hearing from families, from residents who are saying they would actually die than to continue to live in the isolation they've been put in during this pandemic," said Shannon Gimbel, an Ombudsman with DRCOG's Area Agency on Aging, who said that changes to the guidelines are in the works.

"What we've been hearing from resident and family members is that it's not coming soon enough. That people aren't dying from COVID, people are dying from loneliness and a broken heart."

But state officials have said it is a difficult balance. More than half of the state's COVID-19 deaths have occurred in residential care facilities.

In a news conference Monday, Governor Jared Polis said he is working to expand visitation "as soon as possible."

"Fast testing is a key part of safe visitation for our senior relatives in an indoor environment," said Polis.

The timeline was unclear, though, and Contact Denver7 has learned that a task force has sent indoor visitation guidelines to the Governor for review and approval.

"It will happen in the very near future," said Randy Kuykendall, the director of Health Facilities and Emergency Medical Services Division with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. "We have been saying that for way too long, I acknowledge that, but I am confident we are about to see a change here because, quite frankly, this cannot continue to be the nature of how we are going to control this disease."

Sue Smith said she would do anything to be able to hold her husband's hand again.

"We need that connection," she said. "If you want me to wear a mask, a face shield, a HAZMAT suit, I don't care. He has declined so much more rapidly. I can help. He needs me. He needs me."