ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Empire State Association of Assisted Living (ESAAL) is working with the New York State Department of Health to separate and differentiate policies for assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Lisa Newcomb, Executive Director of ESAAL said blanket rules continue to be enforced by the state despite stark differences in the characteristics of the two resident populations, and the difference in COVID-related data.

“ESAAL represents more than 300 licensed Adult Care Facilities and Assisted Living providers throughout New York State. It’s our job to make sure that the residents in these communities are being treated fairly,” said Newcomb.

As the state starts to re-open, ESAAL is requesting that the health department allow assisted living facilities to re-open their hair salons so that their residents can get back into their routines. “I don’t really know what the hold up is. They (DOH) haven’t explained that,” said Newcomb.

Howard Hontz, a resident of Loudonville Assisted Living Residence, said he still hasn’t had a hair cut since March. “You tell Steve Caporizzo that we’re all jealous of his haircut,” said Hontz.

Newcomb told News10, with the protocol they’re proposing to the state, it would be safer for their residents to get the salon services on-site than to have them leave and go elsewhere. A recent ESAAL member poll shows 74% of the 185 facilities that responded have had residents leave the premises to get their hair done, exposing them to the general population. “So we lose control over infection control and we want to minimize that as much as possible,” said Newcomb.

She said if on-site services resume, residents would go in one at a time, chairs and equipment would be sanitized after each service, everyone would be required to wear masks, and the stylist would be tested once a week, just as all of their other employees are.

Rhea O’Connor, Owner and Operator of Loudonville Assisted Living Residence, said residents need to get back to their normal routines as assisted living is a very socially-oriented model. “I get more questions about when the hair dresser is coming back than I do about anything else,” said O’Connor.

Newcomb said the pandemic has required assisted living residents to be isolated for a long time and it’s impacting their emotional and mental well-being. She said it’s time for the state to look at the data compared to nursing homes and allow more freedoms for assisted living facilities.

“So there have been about 175 passings in assisted living facilities, and for nursing homes there have been 6,400. So you’re talking about less than 3%. It made sense in the beginning because  things were happening quickly and they wanted to get control of the problem, we understand that, but now it’s time for a more nuanced approach,” said Newcomb.

ESAAL and O’Connor are also asking for clarity on community dining in assisted living facilities.

“The current guidance from New York State Department of Health says if there is one positive case amongst a resident or staff member then communal dining, as well as group activities, must cease for 28 days. However, the return to work guidance for an infected employee is 10-14 days so that is somewhere inconsistent. So we along with ESAAL are pushing for a change in that guidance to allow our residents to get back into dining room and group activities sooner,” said O’Connor. 

Newcomb added that it’s also time for the state to start thinking about what to do about visitation once the cold weather arrives, as most visitations are currently happening outdoors.