OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A House committee voted to advance a bill that would ensure hospital patients are allowed to be visited by spiritual leaders.

Senate Bill 1096, authored by Senator Micheal Bergstrom, R-District 1, and Representative Toni Hasenbeck, R-District 65, would add pastors, ministers, spiritual advisors and other religious leaders to the approved list of visitors for patients hospitalized during declared health emergencies.

“I have heard many tales of people being left in hospitals not allowed to see anyone, and so that is why we brought this legislation last year because we know that isolation makes many diseases more profound, and so that is the reason we’re bringing this legislation forward,” said Rep. Hasenbeck. “There’s never a time when you are more vulnerable than you were in the hospital when you are alone, when your caregiver or advocate cannot be there with you. I can’t imagine being in that position, being in a position where I felt like I needed my spiritual leader and that was denied.”

SB1096 is a follow up to House Bill 2687, also known as the No Patient Left Alone Act, which became law in 2021. HB2687 gives patients the ability to name a guest to have unrestricted visitation, regardless of an emergency declaration by the governor or Legislature.

The House bill, now law, was proposed amid strict lockdowns at medical facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic in which patients who tested positive were unable to have visitors for support. At the time the bill was signed into law, vaccines had just been released to the public and COVID-19 was still spreading rapidly.

“I can’t imagine the heartbreak so many Oklahomans faced when they were unable to be with their loved ones during their greatest time of need,” said SB1096 author Sen. Micheal Bergstrom in February. “I fully believe that patient care is enhanced, as is mental health and general well-being, when a patient advocate is present, which is typically a family member or close friend. That’s why we passed the No Patient Left Alone Act last year. This legislation will build upon that measure by allowing pastors, ministers or other faith leaders to be there for those hospitalized and seeking spiritual comfort during a health emergency.”

All visitors will still be required to follow hospital rules, including any PPE requirements.

SB1096 will now head to the full House for consideration.