BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — In response to complaints that family and clergy were barred from hospitals and nursing homes in the coronavirus pandemic, Louisiana legislators have rewritten state laws to lessen visitation restrictions during public health emergencies.
The bills passed unanimously in the special session that ended last month — and were signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards. They still will give discretion to the Louisiana Department of Health to decide just how wide open the visitation can be and what safety protections will have to be followed.
One measure by Sen. Robert Mills, a Minden Republican, calls on the health department to create rules requiring inpatient health care facilities to allow pastors, priests and other members of the clergy to visit patients during a public health emergency — if the patient asks for the visit.
The hospital, nursing home or other inpatient health care facility will receive immunity from most civil lawsuits for injury or death for the exposure of the clergy member to COVID-19 or another infectious disease, unless the facility is proven to have been grossly negligent in its actions.
The health department’s rules must give broad leeway to the health care facility, however, allowing the facility to “adopt reasonable time, place and manner restrictions” on visitation to combat infectious disease transmission.
Other new laws sponsored by Republican Reps. Tony Bacala and Rhonda Butler require the health department to set rules letting family members visit residents of nursing homes, other adult residential care locations and facilities housing people with developmental disabilities during public health emergencies, such as the statewide emergency declared for the coronavirus pandemic.
Visitation was a particularly personal issue to Butler, a freshman lawmaker from Ville Platte who was unable to see her son, Derek, for months because he lives in a residential facility for people with severe developmental disabilities.
The department still can enact restrictions on how the visits will work, and all the state rules can be preempted if federal regulators require tougher restrictions on patient visitation.
Several GOP lawmakers complained about decisions by the Democratic governor and health care facilities to block visitors during the coronavirus outbreak. Those restrictions have since been loosened.
The bills are filed as Senate Bill 12 and House Bills 43 and 95.