Should hospitals allow patient visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic? Should the government require them to do so?
For some Arkansas state legislators, the answer to both is “yes.”
House Bill 1061 by Rep. Julie Mayberry, R-Hensley, would create the No Patient Left Alone Act requiring medical providers to let at least one person be present with patients each day at reasonable times.
Senate Bill 19 by Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, would require providers to let a support person accompany the patient unless it infringes on others’ rights and safety, or there’s a medical reason not to do so. Parents and guardians would have to be permitted for minors.
The bills were introduced because many hospitals are severely limiting patient visitors during the pandemic.
Mayberry’s bill has two co-sponsors in the House and four in the Senate. Clark’s didn’t have any sponsors as of Thursday morning.
Here’s the thing about being a journalist sometimes: You talk to a smart, persuasive person offering one side of the argument and decide they make sense. Then you talk to a smart, persuasive person on the other side. And then you rub your forehead and mutter, “I’m so confused.” Often, both sides have good arguments.
Mayberry told me loved ones offer patients more than just emotional support, although that’s important. They also explain to providers the patient’s symptoms, describe drug allergies and medical histories, and advocate for the patient. A patient often needs help understanding the doctor’s instructions. Caregivers can alert nurses to problems, help the patient to the bathroom, and provide other aid that reduces the burden on hospital staff.
Mayberry described one 100-year-old war veteran and pastor who died alone begging to see his family. Her own 18-year-old daughter recently spent three months in Arkansas Children’s Hospital, where Mayberry was continually by her side. Mayberry said her daughter was vomiting constantly and can’t sit up on her own, so she could have aspirated before a nurse saw her.
She said hospitals should take necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID. But, she asked, if Children’s Hospital can allow visitors, why can’t others?
However, Jodiane Tritt with the Arkansas Hospital Association argued that each hospital is different, which is why a one-size-fits-all mandate is a bad idea. Children’s is physically designed to accommodate visitors; not all hospitals are.
Laws are permanent and can be inflexible, she said. In fact, a law could keep hospitals from crafting creative visitor policies because they must dot i’s and cross t’s. Hospitals early in the pandemic lacked personal protective equipment for staff, much less for visitors. A supply issue could arise again, but what if the law requires them to admit visitors?
Hospitals recognize visitors’ importance, she said. However, they also must prevent the spread of a highly contagious, deadly virus among patients, visitors and staff. They’re trying to strike a balance by incorporating video calls between patients and family members.
Here’s Mayberry, arguing for her bill: “This is about making sure that the patient’s needs are being met. If you’re a patient in the hospital, the nurse can’t be by your side 24-7, and that loved one that’s with you in the hospital provides a tremendous amount of care.”
And here’s Tritt: “We’re trying to do our best to come up with creative solutions to keep the patients safe, the health care workers safe, and the visitors safe while being able to communicate in a socially distanced way, even if it does have to be electronic for a while. It’s not the hospital facilities who are creating this situation to not allow visitors. It’s absolutely COVID-19 that’s keeping people from being safe around one another.”
Tritt said that Mayberry’s legislation is well-intended. They’ve already had one discussion about their differences.
If I were a betting man, I’d put money on the negotiated result being a bill that affirms the importance of patient visitors, and maybe leads to a little more flexibility in the hospitals’ policies, without too much being mandated. It will be that, or nothing. Nothing will pass that the Hospital Association really opposes.
So what do you think? Should hospitals allow patient visitors during the pandemic, and if they decide not to, should the law require it?
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.