MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — As the vaccine rollout continues across Tennessee, families are pushing to visit loved ones in the Alvin C York VA Hospital's community living center.
When Rachel Kirkland drives down Murfreesboro's Memorial Boulevard, she's overcome with emotion.
"I drive it by myself some and I have to pull over and cry," she said. "It's really, it's really hard."
Hard because the road takes her past the Alvin C York VA Hospital, where her 87-year-old dad has spent the last year without seeing his family.
"I was supposed to come in on March 2020 and the shutdown for COVID happened in the nursing homes," she explained. "So it's been 449 days today [since] I've been able to touch him."
Kirkland says each one of those days is important because in 2018, the Korean War veteran was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
"He has forgotten his grandkids... it's just hard not being able to be there for him," Kirkland said.
Over the last month, she's been hopeful she could see him in person. Both she and her father had been fully vaccinated for the coronavirus and he's been able to spend time outside, but VA officials have told Kirkland she still can't visit.
"After almost 450 days apart, just to be able to see him not through a camera, to be able to sit in the swings in their courtyard and just talk to him and let him know that he's still on my mind and he's definitely still on my heart, those are things that are hard to show through a camera," Kirkland said.
VA officials sent NewsChannel 5 a statement explaining their position:
"We completely understand the daughter’s concern about not being able to see her father. The TVHS, to include our Alvin C. York VA Medical Center in Murfreesboro is allowing inpatient Veterans to have one visitor (at a time) inside the facility. The only exceptions to this policy are Veterans receiving inpatient mental health care, as well as elderly Veterans in our Community Living Center. The decision not to allow visitors in these facilities is based on several factors, to include COVID-19 positive case numbers in the community. As of now, Rutherford County’s COVID-19 positive rates are still above the threshold for us to be able make the change. The pandemic has been extremely difficult, and we are working hard to ensure the safety of our Veterans, families and our community. Our intentions are never to keep Veterans away from their loved ones. However, our policies have and will always be designed to ensure that Veterans receive the best and safest healthcare possible."
"There are ways that we can work together for families to be able to see each other whether it be social distanced... we just need to, we need to be reunited," Kirkland said.