Sen. DeWitte joins senior groups, state officials to require access to virtual visits with loved ones in nursing homes

Moved by tragic stories from older adults in nursing homes who have endured extreme social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, State Senator Donald DeWitte (R-St. Charles) joined other lawmakers and advocacy group leaders on Tuesday to urge passage of Senate Bill 2137, which requires virtual visitation options at long-term care facilities.

SB 2137 would connect nursing home residents virtually with family members, loved ones, and to religious or recreational activities when in-person visits are prohibited or restricted due to federal or state rule or guidance.

“Having first-hand knowledge of the challenges associated with long-term nursing home care, this legislation is timely given the significant challenges these facilities and their patients have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sen. DeWitte.  “Unfortunately, in the effort to protect the physical health of nursing home residents, seniors’ social-emotional health was not considered, and subsequently there was an alarming effect on the psychological well-being of seniors who were prohibited from having contact with family and loved ones for close to a year. Moving forward, we must ensure a balance between physical and emotional health, and I believe SB 2137 represents a giant step in the right direction.”

The proposed bill comes in the wake of 2020 research that shows that the harsh consequences of isolation and loneliness on a resident’s quality of life are alarming: a 50% increased risk of developing dementia, a 32% increased risk of stroke, and a nearly fourfold increased risk of death among heart failure patients.

Under SB 2137, facilities would adopt and implement policies to combat social isolation of residents in a variety of ways:

  • Virtual visitation would be considered in addition to existing in-person visitation policies.
  • Technology and assistive equipment may be funded through federal Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) Funds and/or other state and federal resources.
  • Cleaning and sanitizing of equipment and the development of a resident’s individualized visitation schedule would be included in a facility’s virtual visitation policy.
  • Facilities would be permitted to train volunteers and staff to assist residents in virtual visitation.
  • A resident’s right or use of personal devices would not change.
  • Penalties for nursing homes not in compliance would go into effect in 2023; one year after the stated distribution of CMP funds in Illinois.
  • IL Department of Public Health shall adopt social isolation prevention policies within 60 days after effective date of the Act; rules will take into account a facility’s barriers to connectivity and Internet bandwidth limitations.

 

“Our state’s most vulnerable residents in nursing homes have suffered the worst during this pandemic, with over 77,000 COVID-19 positive cases and more than 10,300 deaths,” said Lori Hendren, AARP Illinois Associate State Director. “There should not be any hesitation from elected officials to act now to offer a simple, humane source of comfort for these residents – access to the voices and faces of the people they love – at a time when they feel most alone.”

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