PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Starting Friday, the Rhode Island Department of Health will ease visitation restrictions at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities statewide.

It’s welcome news to many Rhode Islanders, including Jennifer Paiz, who hasn’t been able to visit her grandmother in more than a year.

“She doesn’t leave the room,” she said. “She hasn’t left the room in a year, which I find really upsetting.”

Courtesy: Jennifer Paiz

Paiz previously told 12 News that, even though her 85-year-old grandmother is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, she still wasn’t allowed to visit.

Since then, Paiz said her grandmother’s nursing home is now allowing weekly visits. Paiz said while she’s thankful she can see her grandmother again, she’s still concerned for her wellbeing.

“Just to see a child, a smile, it goes a long way,” she said. “I feel like their mental health is being seriously effected.”

It’s one of the many reasons why the state will begin easing visitation restrictions, so long as the facility hasn’t had any new COVID-19 cases within the past two weeks.

Facilities with an outbreak of more than two people are expected to contact the R.I. Department of Health to discuss visitation guidelines.

Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott expressed her gratitude Thursday to everyone who has followed the regulations up until this point.

She said restricting visitations to these facilities was important to protect vulnerable Rhode Islanders and the overall health care system, but overall one of her toughest decisions to make during the pandemic.

“It was one of the most difficult, heartbreaking choices we have had to make in the last year,” Alexander-Scott said. “We know this hasn’t been easy and we truly thank you.”

The state will also be easing visitation restrictions at hospitals. Anyone who isn’t sick can visit patients in hospitals after going through a screening process, which is less restrictive than when visitors were allowed only for specific reasons, such as end-of-life visitation.

Christine Hammond was diagnosed with colon cancer last March and tells 12 News she not only underwent surgery and chemotherapy, she also spent nine days in the hospital due to a complication.

All of which, she went through without her family by her side.

“That was a long stretch being in a lot of pain and having no visitors,” she recalled.

Hammond said she was diagnosed following a routine colonoscopy, and as of today, she’s cancer-free.

She hopes no one else will have to experience what she, like many other patients alongside her, had to endure.

“That was heartbreaking to see them have to go through that and be much sicker than me,” she said of the other patients she was hospitalized with.