COVID-19-related restrictions are easing just about everywhere but if you’re visiting a loved one at a nursing home in New York, be prepared.

"I think the toughest part for us right now is the double standard," said Fort Hudson Health Systems Nursing Home Administrator Amanda Waite.

What You Need To Know

  • Nursing homes are still subject to COVID19--related restrictions like mask wearing and social distancing

  • More than 90 percent of the staff and residents at Fort Hudson are fully vaccinated

  • Fort Hudson screen more than 1,800 visitors a week; around 88 percent are vaccinated

Residents at long term care facilities like the 196 at Fort Hudson in Fort Edward are still subject to strict guidelines like social distancing and mask wearing, and there is still a process for visitors, too.

"They’re doing it by appointment so we can assure we have enough spots for them to visit," said Waite.

There are more than 1,800 visitors coming through the doors at Fort Hudson every week. Waite says almost 90% are vaccinated.

"When they first published our vaccination rates, we were one of the highest in the region," she said.

Waite and others at the nursing home believe this all goes along with the lack of value by state leaders and the federal government.

"Nursing homes are not hospitals. Nursing homes are social environments," said Fort Hudson Health Systems CEO Andrew Cruikshank.

But that did not deter the staff at Fort Hudson from weathering the storm.

"It was a sad time. It was also a time when the staff [gets] together," said Fort Hudson Health Systems Director of Nursing Holly Vaughn. "You support each other and do whatever you have to do to get through the shift."

During the early days of the pandemic, residents were isolated inside their rooms, sometimes with the doors shut with no outside visitors.

"We said 'we just want to help,' " said Ellen Marcantonio.

She and her sister Cathy Tracy’s father is a Fort Hudson resident living with dementia. They became assistant activity aides during the pandemic.

"We went in and did one-on-one visits with them," said Marcantonio. "We tried to console them, because they had no understanding why their family member couldn’t be there."

The sisters saw their dad occasionally while on the job but didn’t really get to spend time with him until visitation restrictions loosened, allowing residents two visitors once a day. They say it’s still trying on their dad and other residents.

"This is their home, and they’re not allowed to live in their home the way we live in our homes," said Tracy.

In addition to these persisting restrictions, Fort Hudson saw its 80% retention rate disappear. Cruikshank says the industry lacks the tools necessary to handle a workforce crisis like this.

"New York has cut nursing homes, the Medicaid reimbursement system, not once, but twice during the pandemic," he said. "That’s on top of going 12 consecutive years without a single inflationary adjustment."

Despite a challenging year and a half and hurdles still left to clear, the work to protect and care for some of our most vulnerable continues with a lot of hope behind it.

"Let’s give them back their homes. Let’s give them back their lives," said Tracy. "They’ve got life left in them, and they’re not being able to use that life."