After Florida barred nursing homes from having visitors due to the high risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19, she had to come up with a creative plan to see her husband in person again.
When Mary Daniel of Jacksonville, Florida, heard that she couldn't visit her husband of 24 years at the nursing home anymore, she—like many others—was devastated. Before the pandemic wreaked havoc on the country, she'd go see him every single evening and knew that neither she nor her husband, Steve, would be able to handle the time apart. "I went to see him every single night, got him ready for bed," Daniel told TODAY. "I went in on March 10 and on March 11 they called and said, 'You can’t come back.'"
66-year-old Steve, who has early-onset Alzheimer's disease, has been a resident of a memory care unit at Rosecastle at Deerwood—an assisted living facility in Jacksonville—for about a year. Daniel admitted that it was an incredibly hard decision for him to go but it had ultimately been the best choice as Steve appeared to thrive in an environment where he had opportunities to socialize. Although they got by relatively smoothly with their daily visits, everything changed four months ago when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis barred nursing homes from having visitors due to the high risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19.
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been hit particularly hard by the virus outbreak due to the advanced age of residents, their underlying health conditions, and their close living quarters. Daniel revealed that she initially tried visiting her husband through a window but realized that it was doing more harm than good as Steve would tear up seeing her since he couldn't understand what was going on. That was when she came up with the idea of volunteering or taking up a job at the nursing home so that she could see him in person again.
She immediately reached out to Rosecastle staff with her plan. "They said, 'Let’s wait to see what happens,'" Daniel recalled. "Then, out of the blue two weeks ago, they called and said, 'Do you want a job?' When I found out it was as a dishwasher, I thought, 'Well, okay! I guess I'm a dishwasher now.'" When she finally reunited with Steve, Daniel said her husband was overcome with emotion and even said her name, a sign that he recognized her.
Fortunately, Steve's home—which has only 50 residents—has not had any cases of COVID-19 so far. Daniel took several tests for the virus before starting work at Rosecastle, all of which came back negative. She also underwent strict training. "I had to have a background check, a drug test, a COVID test, 20 hours of video training on everything, including infectious diseases. It was 100 percent legit," the 57-year-old revealed. She explained that she takes the pandemic very seriously and is being extra cautious to make sure that she doesn't contract the virus and pass it on to someone at the nursing home.
"The last thing I want is to be reckless and bring it in there," she said. "I’ve been tested three times. I’m not going places I don’t need to go. If I have to go to the grocery store, I’m social distancing." Daniel now reports for duty two days a week to work an hour-and-a-half shift and spends her evenings with Steve, just as they did before the pandemic. She said the staff at the facility are happy to have her back since they are also overwhelmed by families not being able to assist residents and spend time with their dear ones. Daniel started a Facebook group named "Caregivers for Compromise," urging Gov. DeSantis to start communicating with caregivers and address the harmful impact isolation from their loved ones has on nursing home residents.
"Our number one goal is to get communication with the governor," Daniel said. "We are asking for a contact. Just simple guidelines. What do we need to get there?" She has also been reaching out to other families in her position and exploring different ways to move forward together, including setting up visits in a sanitized room or outdoors. Meanwhile, since DeSantis recently added another 60 days to the ban on visits to nursing facilities, she plans to keep reporting to work. "I don’t mind being busy. Then I get the reward at the end," she said.