During the Covid-19 pandemic, many families brought loved ones to the hospital and never saw them again due to strict policies against visitation aimed to curb further spread of the virus.
The Alabama House of Representatives overwhelmingly supported a bill Thursday that would ensure families have a right to visitation at healthcare facilities moving forward.
The bill, dubbed the Herald Sachs and Ann Roberts Act, was carried in the House by Rep. Debbie Wood, R-Valley.
The bill would allow a resident, client or patient of a healthcare facility to choose an essential caregiver each day, who would have the right to visit with the patient for at least two hours a day. The legislation prohibits healthcare facilities from requiring vaccination for visitation in this manner.
Visitors under this law must take all the same precautions that hospital staff take around patients as far as sanitizing and equipment.
The family of half of the bill’s namesake, former GOP chief of staff Herald Sachs, watched the bill’s passage from the House Gallery.
“We lost my Poppie two years ago during the height of the pandemic,” said Sachs’ granddaughter Emee Baldwin. “He was completely isolated throughout four weeks and died alone, so just a really bittersweet moment today that now families are going to get back to their loved ones.”
Rep. David Standridge, R-Hayden, said he had many constituents facing similar scenarios throughout the pandemic.
“I had some of the worst calls in my life of people going through these issues with their elderly parents,” Standridge said. “They couldn’t explain their problems and they didn’t have anyone there to advocate for them at their bedside. It was just heart wrenching … especially those that were in there in their last days.”
The bill passed 101-1-4, but the bill faced questions on the floor.
Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, called it “a bad bill.”
“Oftentimes we had illnesses and diseases spread because patients’ family members bring in illness off the street,” Moore said of her time working at a hospital. “What you and your colleagues are doing are opening the hospital up to all kinds of infections.”
Wood reiterated that healthcare facilities can require visitors to follow the same protocols as staff.
“(Visitors) have to follow same protocol as healthcare workers if in the midst of a pandemic,” Wood said. “If those gowns, gloves and masks can keep them well and healthy, they can keep us well and healthy.”
Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, also said he had heard from the Medical Association of the State of Alabama that they opposed the bill. But Wood said MASA actively helped in drafting the bill. APR reached out to a MASA representative to clarify the association’s position on the bill but did not receive a response Thursday.
The Alabama Nursing Homes Association said Thursday that it worked alongside Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, to craft the bill and that the visitation decisions during the pandemic were not made by nursing home staff.
“We are solidly in favor of passage of this legislation,” the association said in a statement provided to APR. “However, any insinuation that separation of our residents from family members during the pandemic crisis was initiated by nursing home officials is simply false. These pandemic measures were imposed on health care facilities by the federal government and any facility that failed to follow federal regulations would have been subjected to harsh penalties.”
Wood said the bill “in now way villainizes anyone who works in the healthcare field.”
“They are our backbone,” Wood said.
The bill now travels to the desk of Gov. Kay Ivey to be signed into law.