General Assembly OKs bill to give family caregivers access to residents in nursing homes during emergencies
STATE HOUSE — The General Assembly today passed legislation introduced by Sen. Frank S. Lombardi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston) and Rep. June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol) that would allow the families of nursing home residents to be visited by certain family members or caregivers.
The bill (2021-S 0006A, 2021-H 5543aa) would require the Department of Health to promulgate rules and regulations providing for the designation of essential caregivers to provide in-person physical or emotional support to a resident of a nursing home or long-term care facility during the period of 15 days after the declaration of disaster emergency and until 60 days after the termination of the declaration.
“It’s a tragedy that nursing home residents — particularly those suffering from dementia — were separated from their families during this pandemic,” said Senator Lombardi. “It’s frustrating and infuriating that the social and psychological well-being of these residents was put in jeopardy because they were unable to communicate with those they love. They may have been safe from coronavirus, but they were inflicted with a debilitating loneliness.”
Under the legislation, an essential caregiver would be an individual — whether a family member or friend of a resident of a nursing home or long-term care facility — who is designated to provide physical or emotional support to the resident during a declaration of disaster emergency.
“The emotional and mental health of patients has to be considered in an emergency like the pandemic we have been experiencing for the last 15 months,” said Representative Speakman. “Keeping residents physically safe is important, but isolating them completely from their families for months on end created a second epidemic of loneliness and disconnection. Those who died during that time left this world heartbreakingly alone, a situation that will haunt many families forever. We must never let this tragedy repeat itself. If this situation arises in the future, we need a plan that safely allows nursing home residents access to someone close to them so they have some connection to a loved one during a stressful and frightening time.”
The bill would require the Department of Health to develop rules and regulations on designating an essential caregiver and the criteria to qualify. Those rules would include health and safety regulations as well as requirements allowing an essential caregiver to have regular and sustained in-person visitation and physical access to a resident of the nursing home or long-term care facility.
The measure now moves to the governor’s office.
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