Florida healthcare facilities have a new set of rules to restrict visitation thanks to a bill approved by Governor Ron DeSantis on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 988, which sponsors the “No Patient Left Alone Act,” was largely a response to the early months of the coronavirus pandemic during which the DeSantis administration severely limited visits to nursing homes. long-term care and Florida hospitals.
The state implemented these restrictions in 2020 in hopes of controlling the spread of COVID-19. As the months of isolation for residents and patients piled on and complaints from loved ones grew, DeSantis began to relax those rules.
Beginning with an emergency order issued on September 1, 2020, the state began allowing certain visits to nursing homes. By March 2021, the DeSantis administration had lifted the state’s last major restrictions.
SB 988 was a major legislative priority for DeSantis this legislative session. At a bill-signing ceremony in Naples, DeSantis said state law was needed to ensure future leaders couldn’t repeat the mistake of cutting off human interaction during a crisis.
“If there’s another crisis, I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the things that really matter,” DeSantis said. “This bill today really creates some cement around those rights.”
Here are five things the new law – which applies to hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, assisted living facilities and intermediate care centers – will do.
1. Visits must be authorized in certain specific cases
The new law outlines a series of circumstances in which visits must be allowed, even in the event of a pandemic or other emergency. If a patient or resident is in labor or dying, she should be allowed to have visitors. Pediatric patients may also have visitors. If residents or patients are struggling with a new environment, need encouragement to eat or talk, are going through “emotional distress,” or are grieving a loss, facilities must allow visitors. The same goes for a resident or patient about to make a major medical decision.
2. Facilities will have to establish visiting rules
Healthcare companies will have 30 days to create or update visiting rules that cannot be stricter than the rules for staff members around patients or residents. These rules must include infection control procedures, but facilities may not require any immunizations or vaccinations from visitors. And they must allow consensual touch from patients or residents.
3. Essential caregivers get better access
Facilities will have to allow patients or residents to designate an “essential caregiver” who can visit for up to two hours a day.
4. Visitation rights can be suspended
The new law will allow facilities to make visitors agree to their rules. If the visitor violates them, their privileges may be revoked. The rules should be easily accessible from the home page of the institution’s website.
5. The new law takes effect immediately
DeSantis’ signing on Wednesday made the legislation law.
This story was originally published April 6, 2022 5 p.m.