State Rep. Roger Bruce continues to do some soul-searching about an upcoming vote on a bill that allows family visitation to health care facilities.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, would prohibit Georgia hospitals and nursing homes from limiting patients’ ability to visit with family members in the event treatment or hospitalization lasts more than 24 hours — including during any “declared public health emergency.”
According to the bill, family members approved by the facilities would be permitted to visit with ailing loved ones in-person for at least two hours daily.
During the pandemic, patients in most health care facilities, including nursing homes, were not allowed visitation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted tragedy for family members unable to see their dying loved ones.
“No matter how you vote, you are going to tick someone off,” said Bruce, an Atlanta Democrat who leads Douglas County’s eight-member state delegation. “We understand that people want to see their love ones. We have to also keep in consideration the spread of the virus.”
Georgia currently allows visitation at nursing homes and long-term care facilities based on levels of COVID-19 positivity rates in a given community, under federal guidelines.
Setzler was prompted to draft the bill because of stories of loved ones saying their final good-byes via cellphones.
“Watching your mother die in a four-inch screen on an iPhone is simply unacceptable,” Setzler said. “Every corner of this state has been devastated by the reality of not being able to visit sick or dying family members in times of great need.”
Bruce asked the input of the public through a Facebook post earlier this week. He said he still isn’t sure how he will vote.
“I’m hearing good responses from both sides on the issue,” he said. “I’m really hoping we can come up with a compromise. This is one of the toughest votes I’ve had to make.”
Bruce said one idea he heard was to set up a visitors room in the health care facility and allow families about 30 minutes for visitation. He said the room would then be sterilized before the next family uses it.
Setzler said his bill would allow hospitals and nursing homes to impose “reasonable safety requirements” for visitation, though specific rules are not outlined in the bill.
The bill also includes liability protections aimed at shielding Georgia hospitals and nursing homes from legal consequences for allowing visitors during public-health emergencies, mirroring legal guardrails businesses gained last August amid the pandemic, which House Republicans have proposed extending until June 14, 2022.