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Governor Ron DeSantis Signs Bill to Guarantee Visitation Rights for Patients and their Families

Press release from the Office of Governor Ron DeSantis

Today, Governor Ron DeSantis signed SB 988, the No Patient Left Alone Act, to guarantee Florida families the fundamental right to visit their loved ones who are receiving care in hospitals, hospices, and long-term care facilities. No health care facility in Florida may require a vaccine as a condition of visitation, and every health care facility must allow their residents and patients to be hugged by their loved ones.

“Throughout the pandemic, the federal government has waived protections for families to visit their loved ones in hospitals and long-term care facilities. That is unacceptable,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “Here in Florida, we recognize that family and human connection is one of the most important aspects of physical, mental, and emotional well-being, and we are ensuring Floridians are never again denied the right to see their relatives and friends while in hospitals or nursing homes.”

“It is wonderful to see the rights of hospital and nursing home patients protected and signed into law,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “Patients shouldn’t be denied the right to see their loved ones, especially during life’s difficult moments. Thank you to Governor DeSantis and the Florida Legislature for prioritizing this important issue. Hopefully, this law will bring much peace, comfort, and clarity to Floridians.”

Although the Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reinstated federal visitation protections for long term care facilities in late 2020, CMS continues to waive visitation policies for hospitals, enabling them to not allow visitors for patients. With the signing of this legislation, Florida law now guarantees this right.
 
“Understanding firsthand the emotional toll of caring for my father during the pandemic, this bill is a necessity not only for patients, but also family members that desperately want to play an active and in-person role in their loved ones’ care,” said Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez.

“Over the past year, I have seen the struggles that residents have experienced in hospitals and long-term care facilities where they were unable to visit with their family,” said Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller. “I applaud the Governor and Florida Legislature for taking this very important step to guarantee visitation as a fundamental right for these residents. As Florida’s health care regulator, we take these matters seriously and stand ready to investigate any violations of this law.” 

SB 988 states health care facilities must allow in-person visitation in all of the following circumstances, unless the resident, client, or patient objects:

  • End-of-life situations.
  • A resident, client, or patient who was living with family before being admitted to the provider’s care is struggling with the change in environment and lack of in-person family support.
  • A resident, client, or patient is making one or more major medical decisions.
  • A resident, client, or patient is experiencing emotional distress or grieving the loss of a friend or family member who recently died.
  • A resident, client, or patient needs cueing or encouragement to eat or drink that was previously provided by a family member or caregiver.
  • A resident, client, or patient who used to talk and interact with others is seldom speaking.
  • For hospitals, childbirth, including labor and delivery.
  • Pediatric patients.

Additionally, the bill allows a resident, client, or patient the option to designate a visitor who is a family member, friend, guardian, or other individual as an essential caregiver. The provider must allow in-person visitation by the essential caregiver for at least 2 hours daily in addition to any other visitation authorized by the provider. 

“The No Patient Left Alone Act is about protecting human dignity and compassion,” said Senator Ileana Garcia. “It makes clear that in Florida, at a person’s greatest hour of need, there will be a loved one by their side. During the pandemic I heard from so many families who were heartbroken and frustrated because they could not be with a relative who was hospitalized. We all know of people who sadly died alone, unable to feel the warmth of a loved one’s touch or a final goodbye. That is unacceptable, and this law makes certain that will never happen again. It was an honor to successfully shepherd the No Patient Left Alone Act through the legislative process, and I’m very grateful to Governor DeSantis for his support and leadership.”

“I am so pleased that Gov. DeSantis signed SB 988 today,” said Senator Gayle Harrell. “It makes sure our patients are able to have the comfort of their loved ones when they are isolated in our nursing homes or health care facilities during a health emergency such as the pandemic. I have talked with and worked with so many family members over the past two years who experienced many difficulties in seeing and supporting their loved ones during this time. This bill will make a huge difference for them.”

“COVID showed us that while a virus can be deadly, depression and loneliness can be just as deadly,” said Representative Jason Shoaf. “We all have heard and experienced the heart-wrenching stories of those in facilities cut off from their loved ones. This law will be a large step toward preventing this problem.”

By May 6, all Florida hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and intermediate care facilities for the developmentally disabled must adopt and publicly post their visitation policy in an easily accessible format on the home page of their website. These policies should outline hours for visitation and any health or safety procedures that visitors are subject to.

Providers are authorized to request a visitor to agree to the policy and procedures in writing.

If you or your loved one have been met with resistance from a hospital, hospice, or long-term care facility when attempting to visit with loved ones, you may file a complaint with the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) for further review and action online at www.ahca.myflorida.com/visitation.