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Sunday December 5th

No Patient Left Alone Act passes in N.C. Senate, seeks to expand visitation rights

<p>The UNC Hospitals entrance sign is pictured on Oct. 13.</p>
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The UNC Hospitals entrance sign is pictured on Oct. 13.

The No Patient Left Alone Act passed unanimously in the N.C. Senate on Oct. 6 and is now awaiting a signature from Gov. Roy Cooper.

The bill would ensure patient visitation rights in most health care facilities and permit residential treatment facilities to receive visitors to the fullest extent.

“It will be for any congregate care settings, nursing homes, hospital, hospice care facilities, adult care homes, residential treatment centers — all the facilities that have congregate care," N.C. Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Davie, Forsyth, said.

Facilities may require visitors to submit to health screenings to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and may prohibit entry to visitors who do not pass screening requirements or who have tested positive for an infectious disease. 

“The bill is sort of targeted to identify situations where a patient really needs to have a family member by their side and creates penalties for the facility if they don't follow those protocols," N.C. Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Avery, Burke, Caldwell, said.

If a facility is found in violation of these visitation rights, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is required to assess a civil penalty of $500 for each violation.

“Most people certainly want to be with their loved ones when they're in a crisis — whether they're seriously ill or it's the end of their life, you just don't want them to be alone,” Krawiec said. “And they shouldn't be. They should make accommodations so that family members will be able to be with their loved ones when there is a crisis."

The COVID-19 pandemic was a crisis that many facilities did not know how to approach, Krawiec said. But even with the pandemic, she said, patients should not have to be alone and isolated from family.

Daniel, her colleague in the Senate, agreed. 

“What we thought here was kind of an overreaction — or at least that was our opinion — an overreaction to the virus by isolating family members who are in health care settings,” Daniel said. 

At Chatham Ridge, an assisted living community in Chapel Hill, visitation was always an option, it just took place in a different setting, said Jessica Werner, the executive director of Chatham Ridge. 

“We have done outdoor visitation in the very beginning of COVID to try to eliminate exposure and not have as many people coming into our community as possible,” Werner said. “But now we are back to having normal visitation with residents, families and friends. They are just required to wear a mask and answer screening questions.”

Werner said visitation was completely halted only when there was a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility.

Daniel said that representatives from nursing home facilities who testified on behalf of the bill discussed how complete isolation took a toll on not only the mental health of patients, but their physical health as well.

“Some of the nursing folks who testified in front of the committee about this were saying that people that were isolated were dying from what they call a 'failure to thrive,'” Daniel said.

Krawiec said that nursing home residents and patients have a much more positive attitude when they have visitors, which she said she thinks will help them with their health as well.

“We just want folks to be able to have visitors through the most critical time of their lives when they're ill and when they are in a long term care facility,” Krawiec said. “So I think this will make everybody a lot better off in the long run.” 

@sophhteague

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 

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