SANTA FE, N.M. (KOAT) - A New Mexico man fought the law for the right to touch his wife, and he appears to have won. A state judge ruled to change a health order that has forced the couple apart during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The story of Gary Hein and Ann Severine is one of love, isolation, loneliness and a pandemic. The couple of more than three decades lives in the same care facility in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Hein in independent living and Severine in memory care.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Hein would visit his wife multiple times per day, comforting and caring for her.
“I know that if the tables were turned, she would be caring for me. She is the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life,” he said.
But then, this spring, a state health order kicked in that meant the two were no longer allowed to touch each other.
“It is a loss. Her isolation, and my isolation run in parallel,” Hein said.
The loving husband took part in a lawsuit in which he claimed his constitutional rights were violated and both his health and that of his wife had declined. He said nursing home staff, even employees who had been exposed to COVID-19, were allowed near her, but he wasn’t, even though he’s repeatedly been tested for the virus.
A state judge sided with Hein, saying New Mexico’s current health order is too broad. The state has three weeks to get back to the judge with changes or continue to fight it in court.
A spokesman for the state Department of Health said the case is still ongoing and would not comment.