Across all states, including my state of Colorado, hospital and other healthcare facility “no visitor” policies forced our loved ones to die alone, causing unimaginable torment and grief for both patients and families. We should never allow that to happen again. Thanks to state lawmakers Jerry Sonnenberg and Rod Pelton, Colorado has a chance to remedy this travesty.

Senate Bill 53 prohibits:

a health-care facility from adopting policies or procedures that prohibit visitation of a patient or resident if the sole reason for the prohibition is to reduce the risk of transmission of a pandemic disease, but a health-care facility may impose specified restrictions and limitations for visitors to reduce the risk of transmission of the pandemic disease.

On February 1, 2022, the Colorado Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs committee heard heartbreaking witness testimony from people who suffered under the deplorable “no visitor” policies. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Richard Gillham family pleaded with legislators at the state Capitol to pass Senate Bill 53 and allow a person admitted to a hospital or nursing facility at least one visitor. Nita, Richard’s wife of 48 years, testified that once Richard was transferred to a hospital, 

Nita never saw him in person again. This was the beginning of the horror and nightmare, Nita said. She wasn’t given the chance to talk with his doctors or to make decisions, she said. He died on Jan. 30, 2021 — 19 days after going to the hospital.

Richard Gilham — husband, father, grandpa — passed away in a hospital bed alone, without a single family member by his side; countless untold others endured similar unnecessary pain and suffering.  

Also testifying in favor of the bill per the Gazette was Denver family medicine practitioner Dr. Jeff Leininger:

Overly restrictive visitation policies hurt families…Medical research shows the loss of emotional and physical connection with loved ones has devastating effects on mental and physical health…For years, long before COVID, hospitals have relied on patient and family-centered care because of its proven benefits. Regrettably, those benefits were roughly cast [aside] during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021, The Lancet provided evidence that restrictive hospital visitor policies were associated with a higher frequency of delirium and anxiety in patients. And, for the family, separation from the patient, the absence of normal death rites and the disruption of social support networks were risk factors for poor bereavement outcomes. 

“Poor bereavement outcomes” must refer to the gut-wrenching trauma, complicated grief, anxiety, regret and depression families suffer when healthcare policy separates them from their loved ones at the time of death.

Senate Bill 53 would prevent our hospitals and healthcare facilities from separating us again. 

Colorado Republicans ran a similar bill in the 2021 legislative session, but the Democrat-controlled state legislature “postponed the bill indefinitely” — legislative-speak for killed the bill. 

Colorado legislators should vote with their hearts and pass Senate Bill 53 this session. Rein in the draconian “no visitor” policy and reinstate the human, moral rituals where we comfort our loved ones, sit with them, pray over them, hold their hands, and experience the passing of precious life as humanity has for millenia.