Right to caregiver visits in Texas nursing homes on ballot for November election

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas voters will consider eight proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot in November’s upcoming statewide election, including one relating to nursing home and assisted living facility residents’ right to visitors.

It’s a measure Mary Nichols has been fighting for after spending months apart from her mother last year when her mom’s nursing home closed its doors to prevent the spread of COVID-19. When the state temporarily suspended visitation at long-term care facilities housing these vulnerable residents, Nichols worried about what kind of care her mom was receiving without her there to check.

“She can’t even turn her own head at this point, so she doesn’t have any human contact at this point if I’m not there singing to her, talking to her,” she said. “That six months that people went last year with no contact had devastating effects.”

Nichols started advocating for the right for each resident to have an “essential family caregiver” come for in-person visits. This spring, the Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 25 into law, ensuring residents retain that right, regardless of other COVID-19 restrictions.

“I felt like we were saving the body, but killing the spirit. We can never do that again,” Sen. Donna Campbell said during the Health and Human Services Committee hearing on the bill.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, chair of the committee and one of the authors of the bill, also wrote a Senate Joint Resolution regarding essential family caregivers. That resolution is now on the November ballot for voters as Proposition 6.

“Laws can be paused. They can push a hold button on those laws. If it’s a constitutional right, they cannot do that,” Nichols said.

Proposition 6 would ensure long-term care facility residents have the right to designate an essential caregiver allowed to come for in-person visitation, even during a health emergency. The proposed amendment would apply to residents at a Texas nursing facility, assisted living facility, intermediate care facility for individuals with an intellectual disability, residence providing home and community-based services, or state-supported living center. It would also authorize the legislature to provide guidelines for these facilities to follow in establishing essential caregiver visitation policies and procedures.

Nichols said they haven’t faced much opposition while out advocating for the amendment.

Kevin Warren, President and CEO of the Texas Health Care Association, which advocates on behalf of nursing facilities, said they support Proposition 6.

“THCA supports the measure as it recognizes the importance of in-person relationships while maintaining a facility’s ability to take the necessary steps to protect during a potential community health risk. We appreciate the support for the long-term care profession and the heroes that take care of our most vulnerable Texans every day,” he said.

Nichols told KXAN one of their biggest hurdles was ensuring people know this measure is up for a vote on Nov. 2.

“All of us will either be a caregiver, know someone who is a caregiver or be in need of a caregiver, so this is something that is going to affect every single one of us,” she said.

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