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Nursing Home Visitation Limits Take Heat In State Legislature

Nursing home residents can be at risk, but so are people living at home with a spouse or adult children.
Nursing home residents can be at risk, but so are people living at home with a spouse or adult children.

Lawmakers considered proposed bills Tuesday that would bring back full nursing home visitation protocols for those who identify as “essential caregivers,” but with strict restrictions.

The proposed legislation under discussion defines these caregivers as family members, friends, or other individuals selected by a facility nursing home resident for in-person visits.

HouseBill 892 introduced by Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, calls for at least one essential caregiver being allowed in-person visitation, regardless of the pandemic. If passed, it would also allow that individual to have personal contact with the nursing home resident.

It’s one of 90 billslawmakers are considering this session that concern health care procedures and practices in Texas.

During Tuesday’s Texas House Human Services committee hearing, family members of nursing home residents testified to lawmakers in favor of the bill.

“It’s very important that we allow longterm care residents access to at least one person so that when they die, they don’t die alone,” said Mary Nichols, whose mother has Alzheimer's. Nichols said she is contemplating keeping her mother on life support so she can say goodbye.

“When they die, they die knowing they have not been forgotten and have not been abandoned. I can’t say that about my mother,” said Nichols.

Alternatively, employees at nursing facilities are worried that the progress made in limiting cases at nursing homes would backtrack with this legislation.

“We have to have the tools, the rights, to halt visitations that are apt to be more harmful than good to a resident and thus present risks to the whole community. To strip long term care facilities of their ability to act and mitigate risks is asking for disaster,” said Sherrie Bradley, manager and director at LSM College Hill Assisted Living, in written testimony.

At the moment, essential caregivers are allowed to visit facility residents, but according to testimony given by these caregivers and nursing home staff on Tuesday, some of these facilities require an escort to the resident.

This means that when a caregiver decides to visit, they are escorted from their car to the resident, and back to their car, with little to no privacy with the resident.

Victoria Ford, the Chief Policy and Regulatory Officer for the Texas Health and Human Services Agency, told lawmakers, “We do require an escort, to make sure that visitors aren’t putting residents in harm's way. But, we do let the facility decide how they want to escort visitors.”

She also said more than 1,500 nursing home residents have died due to COVID-19 in the last year.

The bill is pending a vote and is still being discussed in the Health and Human Services committees.

Haya Panjwani is a general assignment reporter for KUT. She also served as a legislative fellow for The Texas Newsroom during the 2021 legislative session.