(The Center Square) – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the No Patient Left Alone Act into law Wednesday. The bill guarantees that Floridians can visit their loved ones in hospitals, hospices and long-term care facilities regardless of a public health emergency.
In Florida, and nationwide, families have been kept apart as loved ones died in hospitals, hospices and long-term care facilities due to coronavirus safety protocols. In late 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reinstated federal visitation protections for long-term care facilities, which includes waiving visitation policies for hospitals allowing them to prohibit patient visitation.
Under the new law, no health care facility in Florida can require a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of visitation and every health care facility is required to allow residents and patients to be hugged by their loved ones.
“Throughout the pandemic, the federal government has waived protections for families to visit their loved ones in hospitals and long-term care facilities. That is unacceptable,” DeSantis said. “Here in Florida, we recognize that family and human connection is one of the most important aspects of physical, mental, and emotional well-being and we are ensuring Floridians are never again denied the right to see their relatives and friends while in hospitals or nursing homes.”
“Over the past year, I have seen the struggles that residents have experienced in hospitals and long-term care facilities where they were unable to visit with their family,” Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) Secretary Simone Marstiller said, adding that the agency would investigate any violations of the law.
The new law requires health care facilities to allow in-person visitation in several situations unless the resident, client or patient objects. The situations apply to residents, clients or patients who were living with family members before they were admitted to a provider’s care, are facing end-of-life decisions, are dealing with making one or more major medical decisions, are experiencing emotional distress, grieving the loss of a friend or family member who recently died, or need encouragement to eat, drink or speak.
It also applies to pregnancies and pediatric patients.
The bill allows a resident, client or patient to designate a visitor as an essential caregiver. The caregiver can be a family member, friend, guardian, or other individual. The law requires providers to allow in-person visitation by the essential caregiver for at least two hours a day, among other provisions.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ileana Garcia, said, “During the pandemic I heard from so many families who were heartbroken and frustrated because they could not be with a relative who was hospitalized. We all know of people who sadly died alone, unable to feel the warmth of a loved one’s touch or a final goodbye. That is unacceptable, and this law makes certain that will never happen again.”
Senator Gayle Harrell said the bill ensures that patients won’t be isolated in nursing homes or health care facilities during a health emergency.
“I have talked with and worked with so many family members over the past two years who experienced many difficulties in seeing and supporting their loved ones during this time,” she said. “This bill will make a huge difference for them.”
The new law requires all Florida hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and intermediate care facilities for the developmentally disabled to adopt and publicly post their visitation policy by May 6. The policy must be easily accessible on their website home page and include visitation hours among other information.
Floridians who encounter any resistance to these requirements are encouraged to file a complaint online at www.ahca.myflorida.com/visitation.