Robert Viteri, or Bobby as he is better known, has been living in a nursing home facility for the past four years.
Viteri was diagnosed with a rare neurological degenerative disorder that makes it difficult for him to eat, speak, or move on his own.
Before the pandemic, his wife Marcella Goheen, used to visit Viteri almost daily, helping him through therapy meant to slow his disease.
However, for the past eight months Goheen, like many family members of nursing home residents, has been blocked from having personal contact with Viteri.
This prompted Goheen to file a lawsuit this week against the Isabella Geriatric Center in Manhattan.
“This liability dance is only hurting one person, and that is my husband,” Goheen explained. “A brave, kind, disabled man who is unable to speak but understands everything. I love you, Robert.”
Through video calls and window visits, Goheen has been able to make limited contact with her husband. But she says it is hard for Viteri to understand why she can’t physically be next to him.
“Isolation is our current public health crisis,” Goheen said. “I will not allow my husband to perish from prolonged isolation because of language and liability wars that have nothing to do with him and lack of understanding of his rare condition.”
Goheen’s lawyer Michael Sussman says although the Department of Health is restricting visitation right now to assisted living facilities, there is a provision that allows for compassionate care visits.
A doctor at Harvard Medical School also wrote a letter attached to the lawsuit explaining how Goheen’s visits are an important part of Viteri’s therapy.
Despite this, Sussman says the center is still refusing to allow Goheen contact with her husband.
“They have been unreasonable in their response,” Sussman commented. “There is no real dispute about Robert’s condition or the care that she provided, because as she told you, she was there pre-COVID on an almost day to day basis.”
The lawsuit is seeking an order to allow for daily visits as soon as possible.
Audrey Waters, a spokesperson for Isabella Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care sent a statement in response saying,
“Many of our families are unhappy about the visitation rules imposed by the Department of Health, and as I am sure Ms. Goheen can attest, prior to the pandemic, visitation was promoted and supported by Isabella. We all hope this terrible cloud will pass, and we are able return to a time when families can regularly visit their loved ones and support their care.”
Sussman disagreed with this assessment, saying that the health department’s regulations included a provision for compassionate care visits, even during the pandemic.
Goheen also attended a rally outside the state capitol last month, calling on the governor to sign an executive order that would give a family member an “Essential Family Caregiver” designation, allowing them to visit loved ones inside these facilities.