But Tim Kibler, a lobbyist with the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, said the legislation could put people at risk of either getting sick or getting vulnerable Georgians sick.
“Every person who steps on the campus at the hospital heightens the risk of bringing infection into the hospital and spreading the contagion to people who don’t currently have it,” he said. “It is our fear that unless we really thread a needle here, the result will be more families that will suffer and more tragedies.”
Setzler, chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, told the panel considering the legislation that visits from close family members and friends are more than just socializing, that they are “essential caregivers” who contribute to the health and well-being of those who are sick. His bill would define an essential caregiver as someone who is 18 or older and has an established relationship with the patient.
The legislation — which would take effect July 1 if it passes — wouldn’t supersede an emergency order from the governor, but it would require the governor to explicitly state that visitation was not allowed.
When the pandemic reached Georgia in March, hospitals and nursing homes began to deny visitation at their facilities. Gov. Brian Kemp in September eased guidelines, banning visitation only in health care facilities with COVID-19 cases or in counties with high infection rates.
Anna Adams, a lobbyist with the Georgia Hospital Association, said she understood the benefits of having loved ones visit sick family members, and she said facilities were doing all they could to allow visitors when it was safe and practical. But even though they require visitors to use masks, get their temperature checked and be tested for COVID-19, they don’t always have full compliance — much like several who attended the committee hearing on Wednesday.
“There is a mask requirement that was put in place by the speaker of this House, and yet, there are attendees and speakers who are at this meeting who are not masked,” she said.
HB 290 would allow at least two family members or friends to visit patients for no less than two hours each day. Facilities would set necessary health guidelines that visitors would have to follow, such as requiring personal protective equipment.
The bill would also prevent anyone from suing a health care facility if he or she got sick or was harmed because the hospital or nursing home allowed patients to receive visitors.
“Our current legal status quo allows health care providers to say, ‘No, you can’t come in,’ ” Setlzer said. “I think that violates people’s dignity. I hesitate to use the word ‘right,’ but I think it approaches a right to be able to have contact with a loved one.”
The committee did not take action on HB 290.