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DeSantis pushes for patients' rights to have visitors as local woman leads effort

Mary Daniel is working on federal and state legislation to make sure families don't have to fight to see their loved ones.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida lawmakers are drafting bills in Tallahassee aimed at allowing patients to have visitors. The push comes after hospitals and long-term care facilities enforced visitor restrictions because of COVID.

 A local woman is credited with kickstarting the effort.

First Coast News first told you about Mary Daniel almost two years ago when she had to wait more than 100 days to visit her husband in his Alzheimer's care home because of the pandemic. 

"Just shutting the door, slamming the door in our face is not the answer," she said. "And we're never going to go back to that again."

She got a job as a dishwasher there to see her husband at the time. Daniel is now able to visit him every day.

"Maybe our legislators forget how hard this journey is in and of itself. But to then have to be the one who was responsible to fight to get into him, for many people is just too much of a burden to bear," she said.

Daniel has helped craft state and federal legislation to ensure families don't have to fight to see their loved ones, including Senate bill 1724.

"This will designate an essential caregiver for every resident in long-term care. So, in the case of another lockdown, of another health emergency, every resident will be able to name, or their power of attorney will be able to name, a essential caregiver who will be able to be allowed in for at least two hours a day, under all circumstances," Daniel said.

In the next couple of weeks, that bill will be paired with the No Patient Left Alone Act. It would require providers to allow patients have visitors at the end of a patient's life, or when the patient needs emotional support.

It would allow providers to refuse visitation to a visitor who doesn't pass a health screening or refuses to comply with the provider's infection control protocols. The bill passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on Health and Human Services Wednesday. 

Daniel said when the bills are paired, there will be different sections for hospital visitation and long-term care facilities. 

"There is a difference between a patient and a resident, and the visitation should not be the same. The circumstances of visiting a patient in a hospital where they're temporarily versus visiting a resident in their home, where they live permanently, are two very, very different things," she said.

A spokesperson for the Florida Senior Living Association said they have some concerns about the way the No Patient Left Alone Act is written now, and sent the following statement.

“FSLA supports passage of legislation protecting residents’ and family members’ right to visitation, and is supportive of Senator Garcia’s efforts and the goal of SB 988. We have some concerns that the current language may create unintended consequences with existing assisted living resident visitation rights. FSLA is working with the Florida House, Senate, Governor’s Office and interested stakeholders in an effort to improve the bill, with the goal of putting seniors first.”

Governor Ron DeSantis hinted at similar legislation, what he called a patients' bill of rights package, Wednesday.

"COVID cannot be used as a excuse to deny patients basic rights, and one of the rights of being a patient, I think, is having your loved ones present," he said.

"I think the basic idea is these folks need to be allowed in. That is such a huge component to this," DeSantis said.

He said a lot of hospitals are already doing a good job of allowing visitors, but some aren't, which is why the legislation is necessary.

In Jacksonville, most hospitals have updated visitor guidelines as COVID changes. At Mayo Clinic, all patients admitted are allowed two specified visitors during the hours of eight a.m. and eight p.m.

At Baptist Health, visitors aren't restricted during regular hours. Nine p.m. to five a.m. patients can have up to two visitors that have to register. COVID positive patients can have limited visitors, but “reasonable accommodations will be made” for those with disabilities. At UF Health Jacksonville there aren't restrictions. 

At Ascension St. Vincent's, inpatients and procedural patients in the medical imaging or surgical areas can have two designated visitors per day. Patients in the emergency department can have one designated visitor per day for adult patients, and up to two designated visitors per day for pediatric patients. COVID positive patients can have one designated adult visitor per day. Visiting hours are eight a.m. to eight p.m.

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