A state Senate bill that addresses patient visitations during a statewide emergency has been expanded significantly by a concurrence committee.
The House voted 79-29 on Thursday to approve the compromise legislation for Senate Bill 191, titled “The No Patient Left Alone Act.”
The committee took about a month to reach the compromise. Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, was the lead House conferee on the committee.
It is not clear when the Senate may vote on whether to concur on SB191. Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, is a co-primary sponsor of the bill.
SB191 affects hospitals, nursing homes, hospice care, residential treatment facilities and other long-term care facilities.
The main changes to SB191 involve clarifying that those facilities are required to provide notice of patient visitation rights to patients and family members, and allow compassionate care visits to patients.
Family members are defined as a spouse, child, sibling, parent, grandparent, grandchild, spouse of an immediate family member, stepparent, stepchildren, stepsiblings and adoptive relationships.
Compassionate care visits would include:
- End-of-life situations.
- A patient struggling with a change in living environment and lack of personal family support.
- A patient grieving the recent loss of a family member or friend.
- A patient requiring additional attention because of challenges with eating or drinking. That care previously was provided by a family member or caregiver.
- And a patient becoming unstable emotionally in part by being in the facility.
Visitors can be required to be screened for infectious diseases. If a visitor tests positive for an infectious disease or fails the screening, they can be denied entry.
Visitors can be required to wear personal protective equipment.
Krawiec has said that non-COVID-19 patients are being adversely affected by the visitor restriction as well.
“There are a multitude of cases where residents are still not allowed to have visitors,” Krawiec said. “It should never happen again where patients are dying alone in facilities.”
“There are also those who have diminished cognitive abilities who don’t understand why they are abandoned without loved ones or caregivers being allowed to visit them.”
“Isolation is a reason many residents in facilities ‘fail to thrive,’” she said.
SB191’s primary focus remains on concerns that emergency visitor restrictions can keep family members from being with loved ones and hampering their ability to serve as an advocate with hospital staff.
The patient can designate the visitor “if they have the capacity to make decisions.”
On March 12, DHHS issued an order that long-term care facilities can allow in-person visitations — indoor and outdoor — “in most circumstances” based on changes made by the federal Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Those agencies cited “rapidly improving trends in long-term care facilities” for allowing more visitations.
DHHS cautioned in its updated guidance that outdoor visitations still remain the best option.