The Colorado State Senate recently voted in bipartisan fashion to pass Senate Bill 53, advancing this important legislation to the Colorado State House of Representatives for consideration. 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.
Hospitals and long-term healthcare facilities reacted to the pandemic by refusing admission to patient/resident visitors. Regardless of malady, this policy forced patient and resident isolation and solitary confinement, and the policy was not short-lived. Healthcare facilities continue today to exclude visitors at their discretion, causing patients and residents to languish in forced isolation.
Since March 2020, the sick and elderly have been left to battle alone — without family, without oversight, and without the human touch of loved ones. Many died alone. All suffered alone.
Hospital “no visitor” policies caused untold grief and trauma to patients who were seeking medical assistance at their most vulnerable times — whether for a diagnostic test, the birth of a child, or serious in-patient treatment and care. Do it alone, said the healthcare facilities.
Similar heartbreak and misery were caused by long-term care facility “no visitor” policies. For Grandma living independently in her senior living facility — do not come out of your room, she was told. For months on end, seniors were forced to live in isolation without physical proximity or contact with their families.
Ultimately, these policies were proven draconian and created unnecessary and prolonged agony of the pandemic. The policies were also immoral, resulting in unethical treatment protocols. When all healthcare providers agree that visitors improve patient outcomes, depriving patients of visitors seems equivalent to withholding treatment.
The Colorado House killed a similar patients’ rights bill in each of the past 3 legislative sessions. On March 23, I testified before the House Health and Insurance Committee in favor of House Bill 1199, which would require that facilities allow at least one visitor per patient. Despite the gut-wrenching testimony of mothers separated from their minor children and loved ones suffering alone for hours, days and weeks upon weeks before succumbing to death, a majority of the committee voted “respectfully no” against the moral legislation, thereby ending that bill’s prospects.
As Senate Bill 53 moves to the State House, it is not too late for these representatives to reverse course and recognize morality is bipartisan and of superior interest to the citizens of Colorado than the interests of the healthcare lobbyists arguing generically against regulation.
Regulation is required because healthcare facilities went too far. They have not reverted to pre-pandemic visitor policies. They will not allow one visitor per patient in all cases. All to show that they will not give up their control without legislative action requiring them to do so.
The Colorado State House, however, assigned Senate Bill 53 to its “kill” committee — the State, Civic, Military and Veterans Committee. This bill deserves a hearing before open-minded legislators, legislators with heart who will dutifully consider this bill rather than cast a predetermined partisan vote. This bill is bipartisan — healthcare facilities will keep you out and force your loved one into isolation regardless of your party affiliation.
Senate Bill 53 would prevent our hospitals and healthcare facilities from separating us again. Morality hangs in the balance as the Colorado State House considers this ethical, humane, and common-sense legislation. No one should die alone.
Jennifer George is a visiting legal fellow at Independent Women’s Voice and a Colorado Springs resident.