Caregivers fighting to see their loved ones in long-term care facilities

Published: January 21, 2022 4:45 PM EST
Updated: January 21, 2022 7:07 PM EST

Essential caregivers are fighting to make sure they’ll still be able to see their loved ones. A Florida woman became an overnight celebrity for taking a job as a dishwasher so that she’d be able to see her husband. Now, Mary Daniel is joining the fight to make a bill become a law.

Daniel is starting with a book. The book has her husband on the cover. But that book isn’t only about Steve Daniel. Instead, it’s about making permanent changes.

Mary Daniel made a name for herself by washing dishes. Not because she’s exceptionally good at it but because she took the job to get into her husband’s long-term care facility. At the onset of COVID-19, everything shut down, including entrance to the facility.

“We know that many people died by themselves of loneliness or failure to thrive because they didn’t have families with them,” Daniel said.

Now Daniel is taking that name she made for herself and using it. She took that name all the way to Tallahassee to advocate for House Bill 987.

If passed, HB 987 would allow every person in a long-term care facility at least two hours per day with one essential caregiver, no matter what.

“That simply means we will never be locked out again,” said Daniel.

Mary Daniel didn’t go to Tallahassee empty-handed, either. She took her book and gave a copy to every legislator with her. The book highlights dozens of the several thousand families who, for months, couldn’t see their loved ones.

The pictures inside are all too familiar of families with the fingers pressed against the glass.

“To be able to put this book in their hands so that they can feel it and open it and see the pictures, the feelings of compassion that every single person showed. I had a couple of the aides even cry as they told me the stories of their own family members,” Daniel said. 

All of the senators and representatives that made it to page 42 got to read one Charlotte County man’s story. It was written from the perspective of his daughter, Michelle Starks.

“The first time I saw him, I just it was devastating. I thought my dad was dying,” Starks said. “I feel like if I was able to get in and communicate with people in person, I could have advocated for him.”

Starks’ love for her father is palpable. But her fight is just getting started.

She says months of isolation not only broke her father’s spirit, but it took a toll on his body as well.

Kenneth Peacock’s looks change a lot in the months that COVID-19 forced nursing homes to go on lockdown.  And forced him to be away from his daughter for months. “The first time I saw him, I just it was devastating. I thought my dad was dying,” said Starks.

“I just kind of broke down. And I told him that it was going to be okay. And then I’m here now. And once he saw me, I could tell he felt better. Like he knew I was gonna I’ve always advocated for my dad,” Starks said.

More than a year later, Starks figured out a way to advocate for her father. His photos are part of a 61-page book that highlights those kept away from their loved ones during the pandemic.

Now, Starks hopes this never happens to anyone else. “Just he wasn’t the same person,” she said. “This should never happen again.”

This is the only parent she has left. “He’s all I have left as far as parents go. And, you know, I think it’s our obligation as their children to take care of them because they took care of us,” said Starks.