Yellow signs cover Stephanie Kirby’s yard.
Each sign contains the name of a person who is in a long-term care facility along with the words “Isolation Kills, too!” written in bold letters.
Kirby and the other people gathered in her Celina front yard Saturday were all caregivers to vulnerable family members. She said due to orders from Gov. Greg Abbott, they have not been able to visit their loved ones in a meaningful way in six months. The signs have been moved from one city to another in an attempt to raise awareness for the group Texas Caregivers for Compromise, Because Isolation Kills Too.
On March 12, caregivers visited loved ones in residential care facilities and nursing homes, thinking they would be able to visit again soon. On March 13, Abbott ordered these facilities closed to visitors as a response to COVID-19. While the intention was to prevent the people in these facilities from contracting the virus, the unexpected outcome was for the patients to be isolated from their families for six months and counting.
“I am with an advocacy group called Texas Caregivers for Compromise, Because Isolation Kills Too.” Kirby said. “We are advocating for an essential caregiver plan. We have been forbidden by Gov. Abbott’s March 13 visitation restrictions from visiting our loved ones in facilities. Six months later our loved ones continue to be isolated and alone. We are concerned that there is no public plan to allow us to go see our family members.”
Kirby’s son Petre is 28 years old, diagnosed with autism, and is non-verbal. Petre lives in the Denton State Supported Living Center.
“He functions at the level of a 3-year-old,” Kirby said. “He cannot understand why his mom disappeared off the face of the earth. There are many people with different diagnoses, diagnoses that impact cognition levels, that are not able to understand why they are not able to see their families. We are six months out. We are not COVID free, and we will not be COVID free. We have got to figure out a way to be able to see our family members. Many of the people in these facilities have passed away. They were all alone, solely because of this mandate.”
Genny Lutzel’s mother lives in a memory care facility in Mesquite.
“Mother has advanced Alzheimer’s,” Lutzel said. “My mother moved here from out of state to be near me through this journey. I had been visiting her three to four times a week until the restriction was placed. That all stopped on March 13. The governor has issued a Phase One of reopening the facilities, but the guidelines we must follow confused my mother. We are allowed to either meet with our family members while they are in a plexiglass box or outside and apart. When someone has mental or physical limitations, this does not work. It is confusing or frightening to our loved ones. Our family members want to be able to hug us and cannot do this. It is upsetting to them, and therefore our visits are not good for our loved ones.”
“My daughter Amber lives in the State Supported Living Center in Denton,” Angela Reynolds-Biggs said. “Amber is 29 years old and has a traumatic brain injury from birth. We are here to speak up and support our loved ones. She is not able to advocate for herself, and has trouble tolerating routine medical tests without me. Amber is not able to talk to me on the phone. In fact, she will put it down and walk away from it. She does not understand why I keep saying I will see her soon and cannot show up.”
Texas Caregivers for Compromise, Because Isolation Kills Too organization has developed a plan and petitioned the governor, Health and Human Services and state officials, and has written hundreds of letters pleading that Abbott approve the plan.
“We are wanting one person to be named as an essential caregiver and allowed access to their loved one,” Kirby said. “We would be willing to follow the same safety protocol as staff, taking temperatures, COVID tests and answering questions. We have a vested interest in staying healthy so we can see our loved ones. I am my son’s legal guardian. It is my court-appointed duty to monitor his health and well-being. If I cannot see him, I do not know how he is doing. We are not just a visitor. We provide them with care and love.”