The state Senate approved a bipartisan bill Wednesday that secures visitation for hospital patients and long-term care residents during a state public-health emergency.
Senate Bill 191, titled “The No Patient Left Alone Act,” cleared the Senate by a 40-9 vote. Among its primary sponsors is Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth.
SB191 would secure a patient’s right to have a designated visitor during a declared disaster or public-health emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill affects hospitals, nursing homes, Hospice care, residential treatment facilities and other long-term care facilities.
“We must make sure that no patient in North Carolina is ever left alone in a hospital or nursing home while their spouse or family members are forced to wait at home or in the parking lot while their loved one is receiving care,” said Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, and co-primary sponsor.
“A video call to a hospitalized patient, many who don’t know how to use a computer, cannot become a substitute for having a family member present during potentially life- and-death health care situations.”
The latest version of SB191 has been broadened to apply the same patient’s rights protections to most long-term care facilities, Hospice facilities and certain residential treatment facilities.
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.
Family members are defined as a spouse, child, sibling, parent, grandparent, grandchild, spouse of an immediate family member, stepparent, stepchildren, stepsiblings and adoptive relationships.
The patient can designate the visitor “if they have the capacity to make decisions.”
On March 12, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services 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.
Sen. Jim Perry, R-Lenoir, said the latest version of SB191 incorporates recent changes in federal law that allows for more compassionate care visits.
“What we’re doing is creating a state law that says you have to adhere to federal guidance,” Perry said.
“We know now that many families were kept apart unlawfully regardless of any health-care guidelines or the governor’s executive orders.
“Now, we have clarity and direction that comes from President Biden’s CMS team to fix what has been a heartbreaking issue.”
House Bill 211
The bill faces long odds of passage, foremost because it would supersede any emergency executive order by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, or municipal or county ordinance.
Cooper has vetoed several Republican-sponsored reopening bills during the 2020 and 2021 sessions out of concerns that the bills would hamstring the flexibility needed for state and local government officials to quickly respond to another COVID-19 surge.
Cooper has said he is willing to allow the state to fully reopen on June 1 if 67% of the state’s adult population has received at least a first dose.
Cooper has said he opposes legislative bills aimed at reopening sectors of the economy because they would limit the ability of the governor and local officials to respond to long-term public health emergencies.