RALEIGH — Near the end of the current legislative session, a bill was voted down that would have guaranteed visitation rights to families being blocked from visiting their loved ones due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke) was the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 710, The No Patient Left Alone Act, which was written to “ensure visitation rights for hospital patients during a disaster declaration or public health emergency.” The bill would have allowed hospitalized patients to designate one visitor to visit that patient’s room during time periods in line with hospital visitation rules.
The No Patient Left Alone Act moved quickly through both chambers of the General Assembly, but as it passed through the House, the bill was watered down via a proposed committee substitute (PCS) which also added “collaboratory funds.”
The PCS submitted and passed by the House changed the language to make the visitation rights section align with the existing policies the bill had sought to overcome. In that version, $10 million was inserted from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory to carry out a “statewide testing, tracking, and tracing initiative.”
The day after the PCS was filed, an amendment was filed that had nothing to do with visitation rights, but instead ordered the State Comptroller to transfer $100 million from the reserve for COVID-19 relief for grants to businesses.
The updated bill, along with the spending amendment, was passed by the House and sent to the Senate for concurrence, where it failed by a vote of 6 to 40.
Daniel at the time indicated it would be better for the bill to come to an end rather than put into statute the current hospital policy that led to the outcry about visitation restrictions in the first place.
According to sources in the House, the new spending additions were added by Rep. Ross (R-Alamance) and Rep. Perrin Jones (R- Pitt). Jones, who is also a medical doctor, questioned N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen during a committee meeting earlier in June. He specifically asked Cohen about the policies separating families from a hospitalized or dying loved one.
According to Cohen’s testimony, Senate Bill 730 was not aligned with federal rules, but did not elaborate further. The rules referred to by Cohen came from the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services that allow hospitals to adopt visitation polices that “restrict or limit visitors when clinically necessary and reasonable.” These policies are part of the “conditions of participation,” which includes controlling of infectious diseases.
According to the NCDHHS website’s hospital guidance page, a hospital or care facility should “Limit visitors to the facility to only those essential for the patient’s physical or emotional well-being and care, for example, care partners.” The CDC guidance also calls for limiting visitors to only “those essential for the patient’s physical or emotional well-being and care,” but there is no mention of a strict ban.