Local woman asks Gov. Newsom to allow designated family visits at nursing homes

Posted at 10:13 AM, Jun 17, 2020

As California's reopening process gets underway, restrictions for the most vulnerable in the population are not changing.

A Central Coast woman is using her musical talents to ask the governor to allow limited visitation at nursing homes.

Holly Lewis visits her mother, Catherine Phillips, every Tuesday at Bella Vista Transitional Care Center in San Luis Obispo.

"It's been really difficult the longer it's gone on," Lewis said, whose mother suffers from dementia.

Just days before the nursing home closed to visitors in March, Lewis got her mom a phone so they could call and video-chat.

"Right out of the gate, we decided to limit all visitation to the facility which was a very hard decision to make for the staff, for the residents, for the families," said Bella Vista facility administrator Adam Bramwell. "It just doesn't do anybody any psychological good."

After a few weeks of phone calls, Lewis decided to set up a visit with her mom at the front window of the care facility. Now, it's become a weekly tradition of singing, reading and catching up despite the glass barrier.

"My mom said, 'You know, you ought to write a song about these window visits because this is really unique and people are going through this all over the world,'" Lewis said.

The song, "By The Window," poetically describes this"new normal" for the mother and daughter who have been physically apart for three months.

Lewis made a video of her songwith photos of her and her mom at the Bella Vista window.

She's hoping Governor Gavin Newsom and state legislators listen to her song and read her letters, petitioning to allow one essential family member to visit nursing home residents.

Lewis says California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR) and the Long Term Care Ombudsman for SLO County have supported and advised her throughout the process of caring for her mother during the pandemic.

When Lewis asked her mom what it would mean to her to have her daughter come inside the building, she responded: "Everything."

Bramwell says without regular family visits, his staff has had to give extra care to the residents' mental and emotional well-being.

"It's been a real challenge," Bramwell said. "If we can find a way to allow visitation in a safe and controlled manner, it would, of course, be great, but the health and safety of our residents and staff always have to come first."

There have been no COVID-19 cases at Bella Vista.

Another assisted living facility in San Luis Obispo, Vista Rosa, did report an outbreak of the virus on Monday.

Bramwell remains optimistic that in-person, indoor visits could happen with proper safety precautions in place.

"I think SLO county could be one of the first to allow limited visitation, if we stay the course," he said.

Until then, these family visits at the window are keeping love alive when so many need it.