87th LegislatureState HouseState SenateNew Law Aims to Ensure Family Members in Nursing Homes Won’t Be Separated in Future Pandemic

Families separated for months during lockdowns of nursing homes will now have visitation by at least one designated essential caregiver protected by law.
May 24, 2021
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Mary Nichols has fought for over a year for the rights of herself, her mom, and others like her never to be kept from one another again.

The passage without opposition of Senate Bill (SB) 25, authored by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) and sponsored by Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), in the Texas House of Representatives on Tuesday, helps guarantee that. 

Last summer, thousands of Texas residents signed a petition urging the governor and Texas Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to allow at least designated essential caregivers to visit these vulnerable Texans. The group, Texas Caregivers for Compromise, which is led by Nichols, has remained steadfast in its efforts and is pleased to see them come to fruition. 

She told The Texan that she earnestly hopes “deaths due to extreme weight loss, despondency, and rapid cognitive decline brought on by the loss of a will to live and feelings of abandonment don’t happen again.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that isolation from loved ones and a lack of human connection were contributing to health declines among those who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

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As families were locked out and desperately seeking some safe way to visit their loved ones, the HHS allowed the designation of two “essential caregivers” who could visit and help provide needed care and companionship to the vulnerable.

With passage in the House and a signature by Governor Greg Abbott, those rights will be protected by law, which would go into effect on September 1.

The bill was passed by the Senate over two months ago but languished in committee for several weeks. Protecting essential caregiver visitation was one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s priorities for this session.

Frank pointed out on the House floor that the isolation was “one of the greatest tragedies to come out of the COVID experience” where people were “literally dying of loneliness.”

Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney), who authored a similar bill, spoke about his constituent Linda Nevil who entered a memory care facility in early 2020 in good physical health and making improvements in her mental capacity with the activities and care being provided. After the facility was locked down during COVID-19, Nevil declined terribly due to loneliness and isolation and eventually passed away. 

SB 25 requires long-term care facilities to allow one designated essential caregiver to be allowed to visit at all times.

Facilities can petition HHS to suspend essential caregiver visitation in case of a serious community health risk, but never for more than 14 days consecutively. Visitation can not be denied to an essential caregiver for more than 45 days a year.

Rep. Keith Bell (R-Athens) amended the bill to require that HHS develop an appeal process if a long-term care facility revokes the essential caregiver status of a family member for violating safety protocols.

A companion Senate Joint Resolution 19 is set for a hearing on the House calendar as well. It would guarantee the right to an essential caregiver as part of the Texas Constitution.

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.