Former Montoursville High School teacher inspires Maryland legislation
As her 93-year-old mother was nearing the end of her life, Maryland Delegate Karen Lewis Young, a 1969 graduate of Montoursville High School, became frustrated with COVID-19 restrictions that kept visits to 30 minutes outside the long-term care facility where her mother lived. Visits were limited in number also, with family members of residents vying for time slots, which Young said at times left her with no opportunity to meet with her mother face-to-face.
“There were some weeks I couldn’t do it because it was on a first-come, first-serve basis,” Young shared recently.
“If I didn’t get my registration in immediately, there wasn’t a slot available,” she added.
Fortunately, Young had chosen a room for her mother where the window faced a courtyard so she could at least have some contact with her.
“I used to stand in the bushes and knock at her window and try to speak to her through the window, but she was deaf toward the end of her life so she couldn’t really hear me through the window,” Young said.
Her frustration with this system and the desire that no one else should have to go through what she did prompted Young to craft a bill that has since been approved by the Maryland legislature, named in honor of her mother.
The Gloria Daytz Lewis Act requires the Maryland Department of Health to “develop guidelines relating to the restrictions on personal and compassionate care visitation that a nursing home may impose to reduce the spread of COVID-19 or another disease that constitutes a catastrophic health emergency.”
It also declares that it is the intent of the General Assembly that, during a catastrophic health emergency, “visitation in nursing homes be prioritized to balance the physical needs of the residents with the mental and spiritual needs of the residents.”
Young’s mother, Gloria Lewis, who had taught American History at Montoursville High School from 1960 to 1990, had been living in Florida when her daughter relocated her to a nursing home in Maryland so that she could be closer to her.
“I was very concerned that her health was deteriorating. (I wondered) if she was getting the proper attention. There was nothing I could do being 500 miles away,” she said. So she transferred her to a facility in Maryland in July 2020, in the midst of the pandemic.
Lewis passed away Dec. 14, 2020, after spending the last five and a half months of her life at the facility.
Towards the end she was allowed to be with her mother, but as she put it, “Wow, was it a fight.”
“I had to prove to the long-term care facility administration that CDC guidelines allowed for compassionate care visitation. I pointed out to them that the CDC was making an exception for individuals in long-term care facilities were deemed compassionate care, which essentially means that you’re in hospice. There might be a few other exceptions, but the most part it meant that you were being visited by hospice or that your life prognosis was six months or less,” she said.
“It took a while and a lot of resources and a lot of reinforcement to convince them. I thought, wow, I’m not exactly a shy person, I’m a state legislator and if I have to fight this battle, what are other families doing?” she said.
“There must be literally millions of people across this country in similar situations where their mental health has deteriorated more than their physical health. It’s a known fact that when your mental health declines, it negatively affects your physical health. How do we make somewhat easier for other people, particularly the elderly who are lonely, isolated, fearful to begin with. But, multiply that tenfold during a pandemic or a health emergency,” she said.
“And that was the inspiration for this bill,” she added.
Young noted that the CDC does recommend compassionate care visits, but that recommendation did not come out until late summer 2020. The bill Young crafted as emergency legislation reinforces the CDC directive. She feels most long-term care facilities are aware of the guidelines and they choose to follow them or not.
“So what I was trying to do with this legislation was make it mandatory that they follow CDC guidelines in these kinds of instances. My thought was how many families know to go research the CDC guidelines,” she said.
A memorial service is planned for Young’s mother at 10 a.m., Aug. 7, at Indian Park Pavilion #4.
Young said that they chose that day because while teaching in Montoursville, her mother had served as the class advisor to the Class of 1966, which is holding their 55th school reunion that weekend.
“She was a very beloved teacher,” Young said, adding that members of the class of 1966 still write messages on their Facebook page about what a great teacher her mother was and how she had impacted their lives.
Young also shared that her mother along with her father, Richard, had founded the Lycoming Animal Protection Society, now more familiarly known as LAPS, in their backyard.