Utica woman advocates for caregivers’ essential cause with new book

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Karla Abraham-Conley has been a strong advocate for residents of long-term care facilities and the friends or family who have cared for them since the onset of the pandemic.

Now, Conley, of Utica, has partnered with other advocates across the country to support the Essential Caregivers Act, legislation sponsored by U.S. Representative Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford. The group, Essential Caregiver Movement, recently completed a book it plans to send to 535 members of Congress.

“Protecting Them Until Death: The Impact of Isolation in Long-Term Care” contains short stories from loved ones of long-term care residents affected by the pandemic in each state. The book also includes photographs and the full language of the Essential Caregiver Act.

The stories tell of elderly parents who have passed away isolated from their families and young people who have regressed in their development without the care of their parents and loved ones, among other difficult circumstances. While every state has at least one story, some like New York, Texas, and Florida have several that span multiple pages.

Although many pandemic restrictions have been lifted, some long-term care facilities still restrict visits to residents, Conley said.

The Essential Caregivers Act would create guidelines on who qualifies as essential caregivers and what to do to keep caregivers, residents and staff safe.

The legislation identifies essential caregivers as someone who provided care, including emotional support, to the resident of a nursing home, group home or similar facility prior to the health emergency. The essential caregiver must be a family member, have a power of attorney or be the resident’s care attorney.

“That’s really what this bill is for,” Conley said. “It’s not just for COVID, it’s for any public health emergency.”

An inside page of "Protecting Them Until Death: The Impact of Isolation in Long-Term Care" featuring the story of Utican Karla Abraham-Conley and her mother.

The issue is deeply personal for Conley after the death of his own mother, Rosemary Abraham, last October. Abraham, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, was transferred to a local Presbyterian Homes & Services hospital in New Hartford as her condition deteriorated shortly before her death.

Doctors found Abraham was suffering from severe dehydration, sepsis and high sodium levels, which caused possible swelling in the brain, Conley said. They also found a large pressure sore on her mother’s back.

Story:Tenney announces essential caregiver law in New Hartford

Story:Utica Women’s Gathering in Albany Raises Awareness of Nursing Home Visits

The book is another effort to keep the spotlight on the issue of essential caregivers. Conley said she hopes federal officials at least read their state’s page and remember the challenges long-term care residents and their families face.

“I’m just afraid this will all be left behind,” she said. “No one talks about it anymore. And he has to stay at the forefront of everything because that’s how important it is. ”

“Protecting Them Until Death: The Impact of Isolation in Long-Term Care” will soon be available on the Essential Caregiver Movement website, essentialcaregivermovement.org.

“Each story is so similar, yet so different,” said Conley. “You make a connection with the people who submit stories and you meet them and they have touched your life. ”

Steve Howe is the town reporter for the Observer-Dispatch. Email him at [email protected]


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