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Woman who took dishwashing job to see husband now leads task force to reopen nursing homes in Florida

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Posted at 10:38 PM, Aug 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-06 10:11:24-04

It’s now been more than 140 days since Floridians were able to see their loved ones in long-term care facilities.

And for the people in this situation, they’re counting.

In order to make strides toward a safe reopening of these facilities to loved ones, Governor Ron DeSantis formed a four-person task force to come up with a plan.

One of the people leading that task force is Mary Daniel, the woman who made national headlines about a month ago after taking a dishwashing job at her husband’s long-term care facility as a way to see him.

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PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Woman gets dishwashing job at assisted living facility so she can visit husband with Alzheimer's

The task force met with Gov. DeSantis for the first time on Tuesday to discuss ways long-term care facilities can reopen safely. They say it may take weeks before reopening.

“Our goal is to get to our loved ones. They need a hug from us, not a picture of me on FaceTime, not me at the window. They need us,” said Mary Daniel during a roundtable with Governor DeSantis on Tuesday.

Mary Daniel knows all too well the desperation that comes with not being able to see a loved one in a long-term care facility. She went 114 days before she was finally able to see her husband in person again, and her biggest fear during that time was that he wouldn’t remember her.

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“When I walked into his room after that first shift, he turned around and saw me come through that door and he said ‘Mary,’ and so it was an incredible relief that I had gotten back to him in time,” said Daniel.

Now she’s making it her top priority to ensure other families get that same sense of relief.

“We have separated them to save their life, and I understand that we all do, and the motives are certainly pure and well-intended, but the isolation is also killing them,” said Daniel.

Mary, like others on the task force, believes there is a safe way to see loved ones.

“They’re open to all options. It’s our job as a committee to put some viable options on the table, so what I’ve been working on today is looking at other states,” said Michelle Branham, Vice President of Public Policy for the Alzheimer’s Association Florida Chapter, and also a member of the new task force.

The options they’re currently working on include getting a point of contact set up so families can call to ask questions about specific long-term care facilities across the state. Daniel says there is some discrepancy in what certain long-term care facilities are reporting, so a point of contact to answer these questions would be helpful. Daniel says this is something that is likely to be set up within the next week or so.

Then, next up will be visitation, with proper PPE. Those visits could take place outdoors, or after establishing an essential caregiver designation, which would allow those caregivers who receive that designation to safely go inside. Daniel says two other states, Indiana and Minnesota, are doing "essential caregiver designation" and Florida’s task force is working toward something similar.

She says this is something that could happen very soon.

“We’re talking weeks. I think we’ll see that in the month of August. I’m confident of that,” said Daniel.

Daniel says the task force is working to find ways to get point-of-care, also known as "rapid" COVID-19 tests to long-term care facilities. But because those are harder to come by, they're finding workarounds for now.

During Tuesday’s roundtable, Gov. DeSantis recommended that the task force come up with methods for lifting the visitation ban on long-term care facilities that do not include testing, due to the delay in results and the inability to obtain a sufficient amount of rapid tests for the number of people that would need them.

For those who have loved ones living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, whether living in a long-term care facility or not, the Alzheimer’s Association Florida Chapter is holding a virtual forum to discuss the impact social isolation has on those living with Alzheimer's or other dementia and how the future of long-term care can help protect our most vulnerable population. For details and to register, click here.