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'No patient left alone' bill paused for compromise attempt
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'No patient left alone' bill paused for compromise attempt

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The state Senate has chosen to take the concurrence compromise route for a bill that addressed patient visitations during a statewide emergency.

Upon the recommendation of Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, the Senate voted 42-0 to not agree with changes made by the state House to Senate Bill 191. Krawiec is a co-primary sponsor of the bill.

The House voted 88-14 on Aug. 18 to approve SB191, titled “The No Patient Left Alone Act.” As part of that approval, the House added an amendment that required the Senate's approval.

Krawiec expressed confidence Tuesday that a compromise would be reached with the House on the bill's final version.

SB191 cleared the Senate by a 40-9 vote May 6.

SB191 affects hospitals, nursing homes, Hospice care, residential treatment facilities and other long-term care facilities.

The number of COVID-19 outbreaks in Triad long-term care facilities has declined significantly in recent months.

However, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services recently reported The Citadel at Winston-Salem with an outbreak of at least 139 cases comprised of 102 residents, including five related deaths, and 37 staff.

That outbreak was dropped from the long-term care facility COVID-19 dashboard on Aug. 10.

“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, during the Senate’s floor debate on SB191.

“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.”

Background

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, 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.

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@rcraverWSJ

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