ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — Marcy Renneberg spent weeks grieving the death of her father. She would like to sit with her mother to help her process their loss, but isn’t allowed due to state restrictions. That’s why Renneberg said she filed a lawsuit.
“We still had memories to make that were stolen from us,” she said, blaming the state of Texas as the thief.
Marcy Renneberg’s parents were married for 50 years, before Roland died. They celebrated Valentine’s Day together in their Round Rock Nursing Home this year. (Photo provided by: Marcy Renneberg)
After COVID-19 began to spread across the state back in mid-March, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration, and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) restricted access to vulnerable long-term care facilities — banning any non-essential visitors, including family members.
In the court documents filed this week, Renneberg and another family claim the governor, HHSC and the individual nursing homes are “violating constitutional and statutory rights” of the residents and their loved ones by “prohibiting essential family visitors, damaging the health of residents in these facilities, and costing precious time to the residents and their families.”
Renneberg said her father remained healthy for four months after the pandemic began, but he ultimately tested positive for the virus and later died.
“To know they’ve suffered months of cruel isolation, and you’ve had your heart ripped out? It’s a tormenting process that you weren’t able to be there with them for their last months. Their last months,” she cried. “The government has taken that away from us. The government is the one that’s responsible for the cruelty to my family.”
Her attorney, Warren Norred, said they are concerned about how long these restrictions have been in place.
“We wouldn’t have filed this a day into this or a week into this,” Norred said. “We’ve had multiple plaintiffs die and pass away while we are trying to find some remedy for them.”
He argued there should be a special session of the Texas legislature called in order to “suspend laws” for this long, and there is “no oversight” to the governor’s actions.
The lawsuit also invokes the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Texas Human Resources Code, which states, “An elderly individual is entitled to privacy while attending to personal needs and a private place for receiving visitors… This right applies to medical treatment, written communications, telephone conversations, meeting with family, and access to resident councils.”
The court documents state, “The Governor is impeding this right and is suspending this portion of the law without authority.”
Marcy Renneberg remembers the last time she spoke to her father, through the window of the nursing home. She chooses not to remind her mother, who has dementia, that Roland is no longer alive.
“I want to help my mother. I want to comfort her. I want to be there for her,” Renneberg said. “That’s my responsibility. I’m her medical power of attorney. I’m being denied what I think is my legal responsibility.”
After nearly six months of separation, certain nursing homes meeting a list of criteria were allowed to apply for limited visitation in early August.
All long-term care facilities must report no confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in staff in the last 14 days and no active positive cases in residents before qualifying. Skilled nursing facilities, specifically, are only allowed to conduct outdoor visits and must administer tests to staff on a weekly basis.
KXAN Investigators obtained data showing only 57 of the state’s more than 1,200 licensed nursing homes have applied for visits. So far 36 facilities have been approved, while six facilities were denied. Eight applications were still pending. Seven facilities were approved for visits at one point, but they have had their visitation approvals rescinded.
Meanwhile, the data shows 881 of the more than 2,000 assisted living facilities in the state have applied for visits. Assisted living applicants were more likely to be approved — with 772 facilities allowed visitation. Twenty-one assisted living facilities have been denied. Sixty applications were still pending. Twenty-eight homes had their visitation approvals rescinded.
Nearly all of the more than 100 intermediate care facilities applications were approved. According to the state, these facilities serve people with intellectual disabilities.
Norred feels these Phase I allowances were implemented so that the state can “say they are doing something, but you are really not.”
Meanwhile, in a virtual panel hosted this week by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, representatives from HHSC said the slow reintegration of visitors is necessary to keep these vulnerable residents safe. …..