State lawmakers, families hoping Texas eases restrictions to allow limited visitation at nursing homes

Norma Barrientos hasn’t been able to hug her 79-year old-mother - Mary, who lives with dementia at a Dallas nursing facility - since March.

“And you know, she constantly tells me, ‘Why can’t you come? I need you to come.’ I say, ‘Mama, because there’s a virus out there,’” Barrientos said.

Nursing and living facilities across the country have been hot spots for COVID-19. Barrientos’ mother doesn’t have the virus.

“And she’s tested negative on every test,” she said.

But, she’s not allowed in to see her because of a state order.

“And right now, we’re getting nothing, you know, just video chats and phone calls,” she explained. “It’s not the same, you know. You can’t hold your mother to tell her everything is OK.”

“It’s hundreds of people just from this area,” Texas State Representative Scott Sanford said.

Sanford said families across the region have shared similar stories, or ones that are even worse.

“It’s not natural for someone to die due to an isolation that’s been imposed upon them that they don’t understand. That’s what need to remedy,” he added.

He led a group of 55 lawmakers in writing a letter to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission this week to ask for them to allow limited family members to visit nursing facilities and other long-term care facilities, as long as they follow strict protocols and provide a negative COVID-19 test result.

MORE: Coronavirus coverage

He hopes to pass legislation once the next session begins.

Of the 604 people who have died from the coronavirus in Dallas County, about a third have been associated with long-term care facilities.

672f63a6-riverside nursing home

That’s why some have their concerns.

“But we need to keep in mind that today we have protocols in place for people who don’t live in the facilities to come into the facilities, and they go back out and interact with the community every day,” Sanford said.

And he thinks it can be done.

“People are going in and out of these facilities, staff members are, and we should be able to afford that flexibility to family members, maybe even slightly more stringent,” Sanford added.

Barrientos said her mother used to never remember to call her on the phone, but now, she’s so lonely that she calls all the time.

“She tells the nurse, you know, you need to call my daughter, bring my daughter, I need my daughter, because she knows I’m always there for her,” she said.

She hopes that if a change is made to allow family members inside these facilities, that it can be done safely.

“It would mean the world to her more than anything,” she said. “We don’t know how much longer we’ll have her.”

Sanford is asking anyone who has not been able to visit a loved one in a nursing home or a long-term care facilities to contact his office.

A spokesperson for the HHSC released the following statement on the request for limited visitation: 

"We understand current policies are difficult for many family members and their loved ones during this pandemic. Restrictions remain in place to fight the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health, safety and security of residents and the staff who care for them. We encourage facilities to use alternative means of communication and to submit applications to HHSC to receive up to $3,000 in federal funding per facility to purchase tablets, webcams, and headphones to connect residents with their loved ones. We are also closely monitoring long-term care facilities throughout the state and working to ensure they have up-to-date, clear information on addressing infectious diseases in their facilities. We will continue adapting our policies and procedures as conditions permit."

RELATED: Interactive map of Texas COVID-19 cases