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DeSantis signs law to require that health facilities allow visitors, even during crises

Mary Daniel took a dishwasher job at her husband's Florida memory care facility to see him during the initial coronavirus lockdown. She has been fighting for visitation rights ever since.
Tiffany Manning for NPR
Mary Daniel took a dishwasher job at her husband's Florida memory care facility to see him during the initial coronavirus lockdown. She has been fighting for visitation rights ever since.

The bill marks a victory for family advocates who say separation during the pandemic took a harsh toll on their loved ones in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Families in Florida will now have guaranteed access to visit their loved ones in hospitals and long-term care facilities, even in a pandemic. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the "No Patient Left Alone Act" on Wednesday.

Health centers have restricted visitors at times throughout the past couple years to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Initially, state and federal officials instructed them to do this. DeSantis had issued executive orders barring visitation in nursing homes and other health facilities in Florida. He later lifted those.

The federal government has since instructed nursing homes to let visitors in regardless of an outbreak. Those requirements don’t apply to hospitals and assisted living, which DeSantis says is why the "No Patient Left Alone Act" is important.

“I understand you're trying to mitigate COVID, that's important, but you can't just shut out all these human interactions for people who are in the hospital and have really difficult circumstances,” DeSantis said before signing the bill at a senior living community in Naples.

LEARN MORE: New laws let visitors see loved ones in health care facilities, even in an outbreak

About a dozen states have passed similar measures since the pandemic began.

Florida’s law lists a number of circumstances in which visitation must be allowed, provided a patient or resident doesn’t object. Those include end-of-life, if the patient is a child or if the patient is experiencing emotional distress, among other factors.

Another provision states that patients can designate an essential caregiver who can visit for at least two hours a day, in addition to any other visitation the health provider permits.

The law marks a victory for advocates like Mary Daniel, who leads the coalition Caregivers for Compromise. Her husband has Alzheimer's and she took a dishwashing job at his memory care facility in Jacksonville so she could see him during the lockdown.

Daniel served on the state task force that recommended long-term care facilities reopen to families in late 2020 and said she is pleased to see this law pass nearly two years later to strengthen visitor protections. Wednesday marked her and her husband’s 26th wedding anniversary.

“I can't think of a better gift to the two of us or to all the caregivers in Florida than to have this bill become law so that we will never be separated from our loved ones again,” she said.

The law requires health centers to create infection control procedures that families must follow in order to visit.

Facilities have 30 days to develop visitation policies if they don’t already have some in place, according to Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller. They must also publicly post those guidelines on their websites.

The law explicitly states that health facilities cannot ask for visitors’ COVID-19 vaccination status.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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