Despite COVID, Jacksonville family finds way to comfort loved one in long-term care

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It was June 2019 when Jeffery Simmons Jr. had a medical emergency while in the hospital. Shalanda Simmons-Lay, his sister, said her family traveled with him to hospitals across the state for treatment.

The following September, he was brought to the Lanier Rehabilitation Center, where family members say they spent every day with Simmons Jr.

“Just family time, just loving on him. Giving him what was essential for him to improve to some type of quality of life given the circumstances of what he experienced,” said Simmons-Lay.

Fast forward a few months, COVID-19 closed nursing homes and in some cases spread to those with preexisting conditions.

The virus forced long-term care facilities like Lanier to change visitation policies.

“Clinically, he’s not doing the best but his heart was broken as well,” said Simmons-Lay. “You could see the effect of the family not being there, not being able to hold his hand, not being able to rub his head, not to just give him that love and that hope to fight another day.”

But the family was determined to restore his health in any way they could.

Simmons-Lay’s niece even got her certified nursing assistant license and started working at Lanier.

“Did I tell her to do it? No, but her heart led her to do it," Simmons-Lay said. “She drives every day, she goes out there. Now granted, she doesn’t work totally on my brother’s side but any break, any free time, she spends it with him.”

Just as Gov. DeSantis began allowing visitors back into the facilities, the family got a phone call on Sept. 8th saying Simmons' health declined and the outlook wasn’t promising.

So the family mobilized by taking shifts at the facility, even visiting from the window.

“When I tell you from September 8 up until October 6, the pictures, oh my gosh, I mean, clinically he still has mountains to climb but just to see the glow on my brother’s face. He’s happy. He’s given the will to want to fight again. He’s given the will to make it another day,” Simmons-Lay said.

Her message to families is to show up and hold on to every moment with your loved ones, because for her brother, it’s made all the difference.

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