Lawmakers weigh in on blocking COVID visitor restrictions at Missouri hospitals and nursing homes Missouri Independent

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State Representative Ed Lewis only had a few hours to say goodbye.

In March 2020, her 89-year-old mother had to go to the hospital after falling. Lewis’ sister was their mother’s primary caregiver, but in the early days of the pandemic, as hospitals restricted visitors, family members were not allowed to stay with her.

Lewis and his family were told their mother was fine, but then received an urgent call from the hospital saying she was dying. The hospital said they could see her if they arrived within three hours, Lewis said.

“I was able to go there and say goodbye to my mother. And all she could say was, “Help me,” Lewis said. “And that’s why I’m here, it’s to help someone else whose mom would find themselves in the same situation.”

Lawmakers hope to give families more opportunities to be there to support loved ones under a bill agreed Wednesday that aims to prevent the type of visitor restrictions imposed on hospitals, nursing homes and health facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dubbed the “No Patient Left Alone Act,” the bill would allow patients to have a spouse or legal guardian and at least one of three “essential support people” to be present at a hospital or nursing home. health.

While the bill says healthcare facilities can still limit things like visitor movement and the number of visitors per patient at a time, they can’t require patients to be vaccinated against a disease to receive treatment. or visitors.

Rep. Ed Lewis (photo by Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications)

“There should be someone standing up for you at all times,” said Lewis, R-Moberly. “When you are most desperate, most vulnerable, you should not be left alone.”

The bill is a priority for Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis, who joined the bill’s sponsors at a press conference on the issue earlier this year. A handful of other states, like Arkansas and Oklahoma, have already passed similar laws.

The four representatives who combined their bills into one piece of legislation stressed Wednesday that they had tried to work with health care providers to find common ground.

“I’m my own businessman,” Rep. Mitch Boggs, R-LaRussell, said. “I don’t want to get into anybody’s business and tell them how to do business.”

There should be someone to defend you at all times. When you are most desperate, most vulnerable, you should not be left alone.

– State Representative Ed Lewis, R-Mobery

But health care organizations and nursing home advocates warned Wednesday during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Seniors, Families, Veterans Affairs and Military Affairs that the legislation could hamper health care providers in the future.

“It was a horrible situation to be in,” said Nikki Strong, executive director of the Missouri Health Care Association, a professional group that represents long-term care facilities. “I hope we never go back there again. But if we are put in this position, again, we have to be ready to be able to comply.

President Joe Biden’s administration has required nursing home staff and health care workers at facilities who receive funding through Medicare and Medicaid to be fully immunized or face repercussions, such as fines.

Jorgen Schlemeier, a lobbyist who testified against the bill on behalf of the Missouri Assisted Living Association and the Missouri College of Emergency Physicians, said the facilities don’t want to be caught between conflicting state and federal requirements.

“Facilities cannot mediate a fight between the state government and the federal government,” Schlemeier said.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, expressed concern about the “profound consequences” of the bill.

“It will prevent hospitals from doing what they need to do to fulfill their mission,” Schupp said, “which is to keep our patients safe and as healthy as possible and to ensure that we have people in place to care for these patients.

Michael Meyer, a Jefferson City resident who testified Wednesday in support of the bill, said his 88-year-old mother, who is nearly blind and has limited mobility, was admitted to hospital in late December 2020 with severe abdominal pain. . It was there that Meyer said her mother faced a lack of care while no visitation was allowed.

“She had to go to the bathroom. She soiled her sheets because she couldn’t hold on while waiting for the nurse. They brought her broth to eat, but they just put it on a table in front of her and left and she couldn’t get up to eat it. She couldn’t see him.

“She literally told me she thought she was being left to die,” Meyer said.

After repeated attempts, Meyer said her family finally got an exception to see her, after which her condition improved.

“The visitor ban policy is extremely flawed, discriminatory and arbitrary,” Meyer said.

Nicole Lynch, public policy and advocacy manager for VOYCE, a St. Louis nonprofit that advocates for quality living in long-term care, said what happened during the pandemic was “completely unacceptable”.

“We received calls from residents and families who weren’t even sure if their loved ones were alive during the height of the pandemic,” Lynch said. “They couldn’t get their hands on the establishment. They had no idea what was going on. »

While Lynch said VOYCE supports the bill’s underlying intent, she urged lawmakers to remove long-term care facilities from her language and instead pointed out a Senate bill sponsored by Senator Bill White, R-Joplin, which also addresses when caregivers can visit residents during a state of emergency.

White said he had discussions to combine the House bills and his version. No action was taken on the House bill on Wednesday.

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