RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Hospital patients could be guaranteed to have a visitor under a bill moving through the General Assembly despite concerns raised by hospital managers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Senate Health Committee approved the No Patient Left Alone Act on Thursday, which would allow hospital patients at least one visitor including during a public health emergency.
“We definitely have a problem. We have all heard it from real people,” said Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth/Davie). “If that were my loved one, the hospital would call the police because I would be going in unless they stopped me physically, which they could certainly do. I would be going in.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic began, hospitals restricted visitors out of concern for the amount of personal protective equipment available and the risk that those visitors could spread the disease.
Leah Burns, senior director of government relations for the North Carolina Healthcare Association, said she’s concerned hospitals would lose the flexibility to respond to the pandemic, and that the bill is in conflict with existing regulations.
“This is a 100-year pandemic that none of us have seen before,” she said. “We have some of the best infectious disease physicians in the country right here in North Carolina, and they have shaped these policies.”
She spoke about her own mother being in the hospital recently and how difficult it was not to be with her.
“Her immune system was so weak that when there was not enough PPE and not enough tests to go around, that it may have been best for her that there were not people around her,” Burns said.
Carlton Page, a paramedic in Wilson, said his daughter, Allison, has been in the hospital three times in the last month-and-a-half. The most recent time she had surgery at Vidant in Greenville.
“I tried to be strong, but I was at my breaking point,” said Page. “It’s very difficult, and it’s very hard when you have to sit in a hotel room for 13 days and watch as your daughter through a camera cries and wants her mama.”
His daughter is recovering at home now. Vidant and other hospitals have begun loosening restrictions in recent weeks to allow for healthy visitors. At Vidant, visitors are required to be screened and wear a mask.
State Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe) said she understood the concerns families have shared about not being able to visit their loved ones, but she questioned the need for the General Assembly to step in.
“Six-hundred healthcare workers have been killed taking care of patients,” she said. “This is a healthcare decision, and we are not health care professionals.”
On Thursday, the committee approved an amendment to the bill that would allow hospitals to restrict a visitor who does not pass screening requirements or tests positive for an infectious disease, including COVID-19.
The Senate could take up the bill next week.
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