Even as some visitor restrictions in North Texas nursing homes and assisted living facilities lift, advocates for people in long-term care say residents are relying on staff to help them cast their ballots during this election.
“Just because individuals live in a nursing home or assisted living facility doesn't mean that they don't have that right to vote. They still retain that constitutional right that we all have as citizens,” said Suzanna Sulfstede, Director of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program advocating for residents in Dallas County facilities.
According to guidance published by the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman in September, staff in nursing and assisted living facilities should have a plan to ensure residents have access to voting. The plan should be shared with residents and their families as Election Day draws closer.
According to the guidance, facilities can drive residents to the polls and recommend residents wear personal protective equipment and travel in small groups of people with the same COVID-19 status.
Staff should also be prepared to assist voters with mail-in ballots as needed. The assistance would include reading the ballot to the voter and marking it with their choices, similar to the kind of help a voter could receive at the polls.
A resident diagnosed with dementia has the right to vote. A power of attorney does not decide for the voter, according to the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s Office.
During the pandemic, Sulfstede says residents are depending on staff to help them exercise their right to vote.
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“Families just don't have that easy access to their loved ones to be able to go in and help them,” said Sulfstede.
“Staff at facilities, yes, they are stretched thin. They have a lot going on, trying to protect the residents in their facilities, they are concerned about making sure that COVID doesn't come into the building,” added Sulfstede. “At the end of the day, the residents’ rights are that they have the right to vote. We want to make sure that those rights are upheld.”
Texas Health and Human Services says it can cite a facility if regulatory staff determine that a facility has failed to help or support a resident in exercising their constitutional right to vote.
Those with questions about their rights can call a long-term care ombudsman at 1-800-252-2412 or send an email to email@example.com.
The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services also published guidelines for nursing homes during the election.
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