Updated on Sept. 10, 9:30 a.m.
For the first time since March, family members will once again be able to visit their loved ones at the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living.
The residential facility and rehab center started coordinating visitation appointments between families and residents on Tuesday, following an order by the city’s health department allowing for outdoor visits at residential facilities effective Sept. 5.
The SFCJL will, for the moment, only be allowing window visits starting Sept. 15 because of the poor air quality affecting the Bay Area from wildfires. In a communication sent to families on Sept. 9, the facility said it will open for outdoor visits between residents and families once the air quality is better.
Teresa Palmer, whose 103-year-old mother lives at the Jewish senior home, was one of the central figures pushing the city to change its policies surrounding visitation.
Palmer shared with J. several emails she has sent to San Francisco health officials since May, urging them to change the visitation policy. In one dated Aug. 7 and addressed to S.F. Department of Public Health’s Amy Shani Ovadia, Palmer called the guidelines “a violation of human rights” that had “gone on far too long.”
In a statement provided to J., SFCJL spokesperson Marcus Young said, “We are extremely pleased with the decision of the SFDPH to allow us to offer visitation for our patients and residents and we are taking this time to build a set of protocols that will best insure the safety of our campus community while allowing for compliance with the new order.”
The city’s health department guidelines dictate that all visits must be held outdoors, from cars or through windows, and must be supervised by facility staff. Visitors must maintain a 6-foot distance from their loved ones and no items can be exchanged during the meeting. All will be required to wear masks. No hugging or touching will be permitted.
Visitors will be screened upon arrival and have their temperatures checked. The city order allows up to four family members from the same household to visit at a time. If visitors come from different households, the maximum is two.
The order also offers some flexibility, giving “discretion to each Residential Facility to implement visitation in the ways that make the most sense and that protect resident, staff, and Visitor safety in the facility’s unique setting.”
In a Sept. 5 update posted on its website, the SFCJL wrote that staff will reach out to family members, one unit at a time, to schedule weekday visits. The amount of time allotted for each visit was not specified, although the city order limits it to one hour.
Palmer, who hasn’t seen her mother in person since March, said that she’s grateful for the change in policy. But she would like to see the visitation hours at the SFCJL be more inclusive of family members who are working during the permitted times of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Still, “it’s better than nothing,” Palmer said.
The city’s decision to allow 18 residential facilities (including the SFCJL) to accept visitors was spurred in part by pressure by family members who said the prior policy was too restrictive. Before it amended the rules, San Francisco had some of the strictest visitation policies in the state. The California health department has permitted outdoor visits since June 26.
The city’s health department wrote in a statement to J. that it was aware of the “sacrifices that restricted visitation has required of both families and residents.”
“San Francisco has been extremely cautious regarding its most vulnerable populations, including [skilled nursing facility] residents,” the statement continued. “We took aggressive action early and one of the most effective actions was restricting visitation at SNFs.”
Since April 18, eight staff members at SFCJL have tested positive for coronavirus, most recently on Aug. 22. One patient, classified as “short-term,” tested positive for the coronavirus on Aug. 1. The patient was moved into the facility’s Covid wing, an area set aside since mid-April to accept recovering coronavirus patients as part of a statewide effort to reduce the strain on hospitals. So far, the SFCJL has accommodated 15 patients who have come and gone from this designated wing.