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SC family tired of waiting on McMaster to lift nursing home restrictions

Movie theaters and concert venues will be able to reopen Monday following strict social distancing guidelines outlined by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, but nursing homes remain closed.
Movie theaters and concert venues will be able to reopen Monday following strict social distancing guidelines outlined by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, but nursing homes remain closed.(WMBF)
Published: Jul. 31, 2020 at 10:57 AM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Movie theaters and concert venues will be able to reopen Monday following strict social distancing guidelines outlined by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster.

But long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, remain on McMaster’s “restrictions” list. One Horry County family is fed up with having to wait to see their loved one face-to-face.

Our news team introduced you to 87-year-old Faith Zemen last week. She’s a mother of four and a COVID-19 survivor living at a Conway nursing home.

Faith’s family says the biggest threat to her health right now during this pandemic isn’t the virus itself, but isolation. They say they’re tired of waiting for something to change.

Faith’s daughter, Donna Goodwin, has been writing to the governor’s office for the past six days about how the distance is impacting her mother’s health. Goodwin says her family is continuing to wait for a response.

“I feel like the governor should address these issues to the public,” Goodwin said. “We’re waiting.”

Just a few days ago, DHEC released guidelines on how nursing homes and adult living facilities could create a safer environment and could allow visitations in long-term care facilities. The outline included expanding COVID-19 testing for employees and residents inside of the homes.

But during the governor’s news conference Wednesday afternoon, there was no mention of lifting restrictions on residential facilities, leaving Faith’s family surprised and disappointed.

“It’s frustrating,” Goodwin said. “We hear the leaders say they’re concerned with keeping our most vulnerable safe and yet there’s no mention of their mental health.”

Faith’s son, Don Zeman, is also frustrated about having to greet his mother for five months by looking through a closed glass window.

“To look into a window and not be able to reach your hand in there to help,” Zeman said. “The [residents] no longer have a home, all they have is their families to come visit them and give them piece of minds.”

Don Odom is a close friend to the Zeman family and on a similar journey, restricted from seeing his wife inside of another long-term care facility. He’s tired of waiting on McMaster because as time passes by, he says his wife’s health is deteriorating.

“I sat at home yesterday evening and I wrote the governor another letter,” Odom said. “I’m missing the most valuable part of my wife’s life, [with her] being on hospice care, being in a nursing home facility. She needs me as much as I need her.”

Odom is asking the governor to “untie the nursing homes hands” and allow the facilities to determine the safest route for visitations so both families won’t be on the other side of the window glass looking in.

“DHEC and the governor have got to do something,” Odom said. “We’re in desperation. I’m hearing our friends talk about how their loved ones are dying and they’re dying alone. And that’s my worst fear, that I’m going to get that call and it will be too late. I don’t know what I will do if that happens.”

A local nursing home facility declined to do an on-camera interview but tell our news team even with DHEC’s guidelines for nursing homes, the visitation restrictions must remain in place until McMaster feels it’s safe for people to enter long-term care facilities again.

Read the letter Odom sent to Governor McMaster below:

HELP! We need you. . We as families that that have loved ones on lock down in nursing and retirement communities and even hospitals are in desperate need of your “release” to open the doors. As per my letter to you in May, my wife is failing even more. She had a birthday and is now 69. Almost 5 months of her latter days has been in separation from me and her family. These are my wife’s most important days of Hospice Care and dementia. They say she is not dying but as I view her through the window daily, I see in her eyes that I’m loosing her. I want so bad to be with her and hold her fetal restricted body in my lap and rock her. She just looks back at me in the window, then turns her head. The nursing facility says that they will let me in when they know the time is near. That is not fair. Her last days are suppose to be in my arms as we have been for 42 years. This is cruel and inhumane. Who would ever think that America could lock us out and separate us from our loved ones.

Last email I sent you, a wonderful young lady contacted me back within 2 hours of the email. She had the most compassion and represented you and your office well. She contacted DHEC and DHEC turned around and contacted the nursing facility. Nursing facility then contacted me... well to my dismay, I still am locked out because they do not feel that my wife is on the terminal list yet. Governor, I know what I’m seeing. I know my previous wife and she needs to be in my arms before it’s too late. Our facilities & homes are waiting on your call. Please do something before I get that final call during the night that I am so much dreading. Hospice told me yesterday that she had lost 8 more pounds. Now that’s approximately 40 lbs since her admittance on Feb. 5, 2019. Now only eating 25% and not communicating. Can you do something please? Calling the facility won’t do any good. Make that call to open, my Governor. As you know, restaurants, malls, events, and now school is about to happen. Why not help the ones that are mourning themselves to death. Was on local TV station last week with the Zeman family pleading to you, but haven’t heard a word. Our loved ones feel abandoned..

Sincerely,

Don Odom

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