For months, a North Texas mother has been banned from being with her special-needs son, whose health is deteriorating because they’re separated by a statewide mandate that failed to protect him from the Chinese coronavirus. Despite her pleas to Gov. Greg Abbott for help, and 52 members of the Texas Legislature joining her cause, the ban was extended yesterday. But Texans can still help.
March 12 was the day Stephanie Kirby was with her son, Petre, who is intellectually disabled and must be housed at the Denton State Supported Living Center to receive the proper care he needs.
“He’s very autistic-like, but self-injurious behavior is a major concern,” Stephanie told Texas Scorecard.
But the healthcare center provides only one portion of his care. Stephanie adopted Petre—who had been abused as a child and abandoned by his parents—when he was 6 years old. Stephanie is the only loving mother he’s ever known, and she has been banned from being with him since March 13, when a slew of government mandates was enacted across Texas in response to the coronavirus.
“On March 13, I got a call from the facility saying that the governor imposed the visitation restrictions and that we were no longer allowed on campus,” she said. Despite these restrictions, Petre tested positive for the virus on July 7. He was moved to quarantine—isolated even further—and has since tested positive twice.
“Keeping families out did not keep COVID out,” Stephanie added. “Keeping me out did not keep Petre safe.”
On July 30, Stephanie learned the ban stopping her from being with her son had been extended to September 29.
She’s never asked for the floodgates be opened, for a crowd of visitors to have unlimited access with no health guidelines, only that the ban be amended so one person can be designated an essential caregiver and undergo the same screening as facility staff.
“So many of us are crushed this morning after yesterday’s announcement,” she said. “I don’t even know what to do. I saw it posted on [the Texas Health and Human Services] website. No one bothered to even notify us.”
Petre—who has struggled with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and eating issues—has lost weight over time and looks anxious and stressed without his mother. She was able to be with him briefly when he was rushed to the emergency room on July 18 after injuring himself with a deep cut in his finger. Before he was taken back to the Denton facility, she was able to spend several hours with him before they were separated again.
“I can only see him if he’s injured or sick enough to be sent to [a] hospital surrounded by sick people,” she asked. “But I cannot see him for 140 days in a safer setting. It’s insanity.”
The facility staff is doing the best they can to help him, but because he doesn’t comprehend technology like FaceTime, all Petre knows is his mother—who was a regular part of his life at the facility—is gone.
The mandates have also locked Petre and others like him in their rooms and taken away their daily activities such as going on walks and working at their jobs.
From the images Stephanie has seen, Petre is steadily deteriorating, and she’s afraid for his life. She’s regularly calling Abbott to act in her daily Facebook posts.
She’s not alone. An entire community of people in similar situations has sprung up on Facebook, calling themselves “Texas Caregivers for Compromise.”
On July 23, State Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney) and 51 other members of the Texas Legislature signed a letter asking the commissioner of Texas’ Department of Health and Human Services to “immediately move forward and put a plan into action to allow limited family visitations inside their facilities.”
Seven days later, the ban was extended.
Bans on entry for most people into nursing facilities were also extended, as well as those for intermediate care facilities, in-patient hospice, and pediatric care centers.
“Many of us will never survive that long,” she told Texas Scorecard. “Petre is down to 115 pounds.”
“I can’t even think straight to figure it out. I can’t even breathe,” she added.
Texas Caregivers for Compromise is planning a rally at the state capitol in Austin on August 8 at 10 a.m.
If you or anyone you know have had a similar experience from government mandates in response to the coronavirus, we’d like to hear from you. Please contact us at [email protected].