By Karen Morfitt

WESTMINSTER, Colo. (CBS4) – For several months long term care facilities have said no to visitors because of restrictions put in place during the coronavirus pandemic. The state of Colorado only recently established a new set of guidelines to allow facilities the opportunity to once again open their doors, which families say is a welcome change.

Many of those with loved ones in long term care or nursing home facilities say the isolation had an impact on health, and some also raised concerns about the level of care being provided.

(credit: CBS)

Before COVID, Jeanine Cochran’s family would visit her at the Sunrise of Westminster care facility almost daily.

When the state no longer allowed that to happen, they told CBS4 the impact was evident.

“As time went on she took a huge decline,” Cheryl Nicholas said about her mother.

She also began to fall more frequently. Nicholas and her sister, Lisa Ertle, were told by staff it was a symptom of Cochran’s late stage dementia, which they say they could understand. It was the response to those falls that they began to question.

(credit: Cheryl Nicholas)

“We would see her through FaceTime with her face bruised or sutures and we couldn’t comfort her and we couldn’t find out for sure what happened,” Nicholas said.

Thinking that the end may be near, her daughters hired hospice. Which after a struggle with the facility, then allowed them to have “compassion” visits — granted when a patient is near the end of life. That’s when they say they saw firsthand how the falls were being addressed.

“It seemed like it just got robotic and they weren’t paying attention to what was happening at the moment sitting her out of the table for hours, most of the day, so she wouldn’t fall, pushing her in and locking her wheelchair so she wouldn’t fall, not okay,” Nicholas said, “and we didn’t know what was going on because we weren’t there.”

A fall that caused a hematoma on their mother’s head, and once again being told they could not visit her was the last straw before deciding to move her out. Nicholas, a former teacher, decided she would put her frustrations into an email to the head staff at the facility.

(credit: Cheryl Nicholas)

While they say there was little response from the local officials, Lisa Kennedy, the Vice President of Operations for Sunrise Living did say in part:

“We take the concerns you raised in your email very seriously, and I am personally looking into the situation determine what transpired and take the appropriate actions.”

What those actions might be are still unclear, but for Nicholas and her sister their mission has grown.

“We are fighting we are advocating for every other family so family members can listen to this and make sure they are on it and fighting for their rights. If you feel like you need to get in there, push the issue,” she said.

Just a week into their mother’s new facility, the family says they are starting to heal … and doing so together.

(credit: Cheryl Nicholas)

The family filed official complaints with the state health department which regulates such facilities, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment confirms they are looking into the allegations.

CBS4 also reached out to Sunrise of Westminster. The response to questions about care were not answered, however they did express their understanding of how hard COVID-19 is on families in these situations.

Karen Morfitt

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