OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma Senate passed a bill to ensure that long-term care facilities have a visitation plan in place in the event of future emergencies similar to the COVID-19 pandemic.
House Bill 2566, written by Rep. Chad Caldwell, R-Enid, and Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, was passed on Wednesday.
McCortney said while strict no visitor policies were enacted in long-term care facilities to save lives by reducing the spread of COVID-19, such policies impacted the mental and emotional health of both nursing home residents and their families.
“I’ve heard from many Oklahomans who said their loved ones declined markedly during the pandemic because of the lack of in-person contact with their families. Even though the goal was to protect the health of everyone involved, the isolation was devastating,” McCortney said. “The point of this legislation is to take the lessons we’ve learned from COVID-19 and make sure that going forward, long-term care facilities have a plan in place so that visits can safely continue.”
The bill requires every long-term care facilities to provide residents reasonable access to family, compassionate caregivers, such as hospice and palliative caregivers, essential support persons and the Oklahoma Long-Term Care Ombudsman, according to a Senate news release.
Long-term care facilities would also be required to provide residents access to health care providers.
The legislation mandates that long-term facilities submit emergency visitation procedures to the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH).
If the bill passes, visitation and access for nursing home residents would be subject to reasonable clinical and safety restrictions ordered by OSDH or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but long-term care facilities would not be allowed to eliminate all visitations.
However, if passed, visitation can be temporarily suspended for a period not exceeding 72 hours, based on OSDH’s emergency preparedness plan.
“Residents of our long-term care centers suffered for too long during the pandemic without being allowed visits from family members or outside caregivers,” Caldwell said. “This seriously impacted their health and mental health. This bill ensures plans will be in place going forward to assure for safe visitation practices.”
The bill now goes to Gov. Kevin Stitt for consideration.