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.”