TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Wednesday a measure intended to ensure patients and residents of hospitals, nursing homes and other health-care facilities can have contact with visitors.
Dubbed the “No Patient Left Alone Act” (SB 988), the legislation was designed as a response to many facilities cutting off or limiting visitation during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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One of the leading advocates pushing for the bill was Jacksonville local Mary Daniel, who garnered national attention early in the pandemic when she was told she couldn’t see her husband who has Alzheimer’s.
DeSantis said the measure seeks to ensure families can provide support systems for patients “when it matters most.”
“Policies (under the new law) cannot prohibit physical contact, such as hugging between their loved ones,” DeSantis said during the bill-signing ceremony at the Glenview at Pelican Bay retirement community in Naples. “They would actually police this (in the past), where you go in and you’re (told), ‘OK, you may be able to go, but you can’t give your wife a hug, or you can’t give your kid a hug.’ I mean, give me a break.”
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Kristen Knapp, a spokeswoman for the Florida Health Care Association, the state’s largest nursing-home group, said the guidance to long-term care facilities “will help.” Florida has about 700 nursing homes and 3,000 assisted living facilities.
“We all saw what the pandemic did and how it isolated our residents,” Knapp said. “It was hard on them, it was hard on their families, and it was difficult on the staff. So, it’s a good bill.”
The law, which took effect immediately, specifies that new visitation policies must be adopted by facilities within 30 days that include infection control and education policies for visitors. The policies will have to address how long people can visit, the numbers of people that can visit at one time, along with protocols about screening and personal protective equipment.
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The policies cannot be more stringent than safety protocols established for the facilities’ staff members and cannot require visitors to submit proof of vaccination or immunization. The facilities must also allow physical contact.
Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller called it “unthinkable” to keep visitors away from their loved ones.
“There’s nothing that can beat physical contact,” Marstiller said. “Seeing somebody on an iPad? Not gonna do it. We need to make sure, and this bill makes sure, that individuals in hospitals, long-term care facilities can have that.”
The bill was approved by votes of 115-2 in the House and 37-0 in the Senate.
— News Service staff writer Ryan Dailey contributed to this report.
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