DeSantis bars hospitals, nursing homes from asking visitors for proof of vaccination

Hospitals, hospices and long-term care facilities in Florida will be prohibited from shutting out family members of loved ones during a health crisis or other emergency after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill dubbed the No Patient Left Alone Act.

In Florida, just like across the rest of the country, visitors were not allowed in hospitals and senior living centers during part or all of the pandemic as the contagious virus spread. DeSantis put the restrictions into effect through an executive order in early 2020 in an effort to stop the coronavirus from spreading. He touted the steps he took early in the pandemic to limit exposure of the state’s most vulnerable elderly population.

Still, Florida’s care facilities struggled to keep staff, residents and patients from getting infected even after vaccines became available.

But with visitors prohibited, many patients died in the state’s intensive care units without having family members around them. And families of residents in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities complained their loved ones suffered from the isolation.

“If you look back over the past two years, one of the most heartbreaking elements of this was shutting people out of interacting with their loved ones at critical times in their lives,” DeSantis said at a bill signing ceremony in Naples.

The governor said he worked with long-term care facilities and hospitals during the COVID waves to tell them he understands they were trying to mitigate the spread of COVID. “But you can’t shut out all these human interactions for people because you are dealing with a respiratory illness,” he said Wednesday.

DeSantis said he signed the No Patient Left Alone Act knowing Florida could see another COVID wave.

“COVID is never going to be eradicated from the Earth. It’s going to be an endemic virus so hopefully, clinical impacts will be less going forward but (COVID) comes and goes in ways we don’t know how it’s going to go. That can not be used as justification to separate loved ones from each other,” he said.

The new law also bans hospitals or long-term care centers from requiring visitors to show proof of vaccination to enter.

Simone Marsteller, secretary of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, said her agency will enforce the law and require hospitals and long-term care centers to develop and post visitation guidelines within the next 30 days. The new law outlines a series of circumstances in which visitation must be allowed. The Agency for Health Care Administration has set up a toll-free number for Floridians to call if they believe a provider is in violation of the new law ( 888-775-6005).

State Sen. Ilena Garcia, a Miami Republican and one of the sponsors of the bill, said the No Patient Left Alone Act is critical to protecting human dignity and compassion in Florida. “At someone’s greatest hour of need, there will be a loved one by their side.”

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