Residents in nursing homes across the state who have not been able to connect with their loved ones or join religious events during the COVID-19 pandemic must now be given a virtual visitation option, thanks to a measure signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker Friday. Senator Donald DeWitte (R-St. Charles) was the leading Senate Republican sponsor of the bill.
Senate Bill 2137 includes a provision that allows nursing home residents to connect 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 rules or guidance. Prior to its signing into law, SB 2137 passed with unanimous, bipartisan support in the Senate and House.
“The passage of this bill represents bi-partisanship at its best,” said State Sen. DeWitte. “This last year-and-a-half has been incredibly difficult for seniors who have been largely unable to touch or hug their loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic, and SB 2137 will ensure that moving forward we place more of a balance between physical and social-emotional health.”
The law 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: 50 % increased risk of developing dementia, a 32% increased risk of stroke, and a nearly fourfold increased risk of death among heart failure patients.
Through SB 2137:
- Virtual visitation will 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 equipment and the development of a resident’s individualized visitation schedule will be included in a facility’s virtual visitation policy.
- Facilities will be permitted to train volunteers and staff to assist residents in virtual visitation.
- A resident’s right or use of personal devices will not change.
- Penalties for nursing homes not in compliance will go into effect in 2023; one year after the stated distribution of CMP funds in Illinois.
- IL Department of Public Health will adopt social isolation prevention policies within 60 days after the effective date of the Act; rules will take into account a facility’s barriers to connectivity and Internet bandwidth limitations.
“Unlike so many pieces of legislation we see in Springfield, SB 2137 includes an identified revenue stream to help pay for its implementation,” added Sen. DeWitte. “I applaud Chief Sponsor Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) for making sure there is a stream of funding available to help nursing homes put these new procedures into practice.”
The provisions of the bill take effect immediately.