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After separation and frustration, long-term care families turn to federal action

Published: Jul. 5, 2021 at 5:26 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The COVID-19 pandemic separated thousands of long-term care facility patients from their loved ones in South Carolina. Now advocates are pushing for a solution.

Patricia Mozdzierz is the daughter of a midlands long-term care (LTC) resident and has been outspoken on the issue of visitation.

Since March 2020, facilities have restricted visitation out of concerns over COVID-19 safety for residents. Many families reached out to WIS over their frustration and anguish with the restrictions, which in large part were eased in March 2021.

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As of June 29, DHEC reports the virus has killed 1,947 residents and 29 staff within the state. Out of 678 facilities, five are not offering indoor visits while 29 violated DHEC policy and did not report their status.

Mozdzierz is now the admin of South Carolina Caregivers for Compromise- because isolation kills too! Facebook page, which has been used to organize and galvanize families impacted.

She and a fellow admin are now pushing for H.R. 3733, a bill which would require facilities in the Medicare and Medicaid system to allow for two essential caregivers. Under the bill, these individuals could come in for up to 12 hours to help care for residents during a public health crisis (such as a pandemic).

“It can’t happen again. The fact that it did happen once, is one time too many,” Mozdzierz said. “It’s nothing that I could have ever conceived of. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d get a call on a Friday night saying you can’t come back in here.”

Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-New York) filed the bill, but it has earned bipartisan support. Co-sponsor Rep. John Larson (D-Connecticut) spoke at a rally for the bill in late June.

Tenney’s bill does not specify what kind of public health emergency the caregivers would be used for, and she said that’s intentional.

“Obviously, none of us anticipated what we went through last year. It was really a once in a lifetime situation but who knows in the environment, we’re in now. This could happen again and be something a little different,” she said.

The bill does not directly impact facilities which do not accept Medicare or Medicaid, but Rep. Tenney said she expects those facilities to follow suit.

“It’s not exclusionary, it’s meant as a model for the states. It’s something anybody could follow. I wouldn’t say that just because we don’t cover it, doesn’t mean those institutions could do it. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them already do,” she said.

The bill is working its way through committee and Tenney said she and her fellow co-sponsors are looking for Senators to push the measure on the other side of Congress. Tenney said a number of Democrats and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) have expressed interest.

The offices of South Carolina Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-Columbia)’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-Lexington County)’s office responded, but no statement was given.

WIS also reached out to Randy Lee, the President of the South Carolina Health Care Association for comment. The association claims to represent 90% of LTC facilities in the state.

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