Man sues to be allowed to visit ailing wife despite nursing home’s coronavirus pandemic restrictions

SANTA FE, N.M. — Two men in New Mexico had to go to court to get permission to be able to visit their family members after the nursing home facilities in which they live prohibited the residents from visiting each other.

Gary Hein, 78, lives in one part of the El Castillo retirement home in Santa Fe while his wife, Anna Severine, 80, who has dementia, lives in the memory care unit.

The home’s administrators banned visitors, so for months, his daily visits to his wife had to come to an end. But Hein says not being able to care for his wife has made her go downhill, the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported.

Hein would visit and provide care for Severine, whom he married in 1999, brushing her hair and her teeth, helping her choose her clothes and taking her to get her hair and nails done, services that the employees of the care home did not have time to do, the newspaper reported.

When the lockdown went into effect, Hein said he was able to meet with his wife a few times, twice in person, and several “window visits” where they could see each other but not interact. Hein said one time when they had an in-person visit, he touched his wife’s leg and was told by a nurse that if he did it again he would not be permitted to visit again.

The couple does communicate via video and notes and photographs sent through staff but he said that her condition has worsened, attributing it to the lack of contact.

“She inhabits a body ... [but] a lot of the personality and life is leaving,” Hein told the court, according to the newspaper.

“I know if the tables were turned, she would be caring for me. She is the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life,” Hein told KOAT.

>> Read more trending news

Hein and another man, Pierre Levy, sued so they could visit family members in the memory care unit.

Levy, who acted as Hein’s attorney, was also prohibited to visit his mother who lived in the specialty care area. His mother died in September, bringing an end to his case, but he continued to fight for Hein and his wife.

Levy said the order was arbitrary and “end of life care” was not spelled out in the order. The suit also said that while family members had restrictions imposed, the same was not done for staff members, the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported.

A judge agreed that a government order that allows nursing homes to make their own rules when it comes to visitations during the pandemic is unconstitutional.

“Loss of familial association for even minimal amounts of time constitutes irreparable injury,” State District Judge Matthew Wilson wrote in his ruling. “Nothing, such as video conferencing, is a substitute for in-person, physical contact with a loved one.”

The ruling also ordered the secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health to revise the regulations to allow for the constitutional rights of both the residents of the homes and their family members be upheld.

The health secretary has three weeks to change the order, KOAT reported. The Department of Health did not comment on the case as it is still ongoing, the news station reported.

More coronavirus pandemic coverage:

>> Coronavirus: CDC acknowledges airborne transmission of COVID-19

>> Is it COVID-19, flu, cold or allergies? What is causing you to feel sick this year

>> Coronavirus: CDC updates guidance for COVID-19 testing

>> Dangerous hand sanitizer list up to more than 150 products, FDA announces

>> Wash your masks: How to clean a cloth face covering

>> Fact check: Will masks lower the oxygen level, raise the carbon dioxide in your blood?

>> How to not let coronavirus pandemic fatigue set in, battle back if it does