NAPLES, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis held a press conference in Naples Wednesday to announce the signing of the “No Patient Left Alone Act” (SB 988).
The bi-partisan bill, first introduced in the senate in November 2021, is meant to allow visitors for patients in hospitals after visitation rules tightened up due to COVID-19.
"You can't just shut out all these human interactions for people who are in the hospital and have really difficult circumstances," said DeSantis. "And I can tell you, if you take people and they have that connection, and they have loved ones with them, they are more likely to recover."
Lawmakers previously credited Mary Daniel of Jacksonville for kickstarting the legislation that made up this bill.
Daniel’s story of being barred from visiting her husband in his Alzheimer’s care home swept the nation almost two years ago. She had not seen him for over 100 days when she got a job as a dishwasher at the facility so that she could see him, First Coast News reported.
Daniel helped to craft state legislation to change visitation rules, including Senate Bill 1724, the “Designation of Essential Caregivers for In-person Visitations” Act. The bill eventually became part of “No Patient Left Alone.”
Today was Daniel’s twenty-sixth anniversary with her husband. She was unaware that DeSantis was signing the bill, she told First Coast News.
“This is the best gift ever,” she said.
State Sen. Ileana Garci, who introduced the bill (co-sponsored by Sen. Lori Berman, Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, and Sen. Keith Perry), joined DeSantis at the press conference.
“No Patient Left Alone is about protecting human dignity and compassion. It makes clear that in Florida, in a person’s greatest hour of need, there will be a loved one by their side,” she said. “During the pandemic I heard so many families, heart-wrenching stories, frustration, because they could not be with a relative who was hospitalized, for whatever reason. We all know of people who sadly died alone, unable to feel the warmth of a loved one, one’s touch or a final goodbye. This is unacceptable, and this law makes certain that this will never, ever happen again.”
Surrounded by citizens who advocated for the bill, Sen. Garcia, Florida Surgeon Dr. General Joseph Ledapo and Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller, Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis and others, DeSantis sat to sign the bill.
He held it up for the room to see, declaring, “protecting patient’s rights!”
SB998 is described in summary as “requiring certain providers to establish visitation policies and procedures within a specified timeframe; authorizing the resident, client, or patient to designate an essential caregiver; requiring in-person visitation in certain circumstances; authorizing providers to suspend in-person visitation of specific visitors under certain circumstances, etc.”
The legislation text mandates that within 30 days of the bill being signed, developmental disabilities centers, hospitals, nursing homes, hospice facilities, intermediate care facilities and assisted care facilities are required to adhere to new state guidelines. This includes the right of a “resident, client or patient” to designate a visitor as an essential caregiver – the facility must allow in-person visitation by the essential caregiver for at least two hours daily.
Visitation policies and procedures outlined in the bill text must allow for visitation of all pediatric patients, in end-of-life situations and individuals experiencing the following: struggling with the change in environment, making one or more major medical decisions, experiencing emotional distress, need encouragement from a family member to eat or drink, childbirth including labor and delivery.
Per the No Patient Left Alone Act, facilities are not permitted to limit physical contact. The bill also bans facilities from requiring proof of vaccination.
Providers will need to provide their visitation policies and procedures when applying for initial licensure, licensure renewal or change of ownership.