SPRINGFIELD, Ill., April 20, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Moved by tragic stories from older adults in nursing homes across the state who have not been able to connect with their loved ones or join religious events during the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois lawmakers and advocacy group leaders on Tuesday urged passage of a bill that requires virtual visitation options at long-term care facilities.
In a virtual press conference, Senate Bill 2137 sponsor Sen. Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-16), co-sponsor Sen. Donald P. DeWitte (R-33), Rep. Anna Moeller (D-43), State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Kelly Richards, AARP Illinois State Director Bob Gallo, and Alzheimer's Association Illinois Chapter Director of State Affairs Director David S. Olsen demanded approval of the law ensuring nursing home resident have the right to connect virtually with the family and loved ones.
"Our state's most vulnerable residents in nursing homes have suffered the worst during this pandemic, with over 77,000 COVID-19 positive cases and more than 10,300 deaths," said Lori Hendren, AARP Illinois Associate State Director. "There should not be any hesitation from elected officials to act now to offer a simple, humane source of comfort for these residents – access to the voices and faces of the people they love – at a time when they feel most alone."
SB 2137 would connect nursing home residents virtually with family members, loved ones, and to religious or recreational activities when in-person visits are prohibited or restricted due to federal or state rule or guidance.
"We know that over the past year of this pandemic, nursing home residents have suffered beyond what is imaginable. Many have lost their friends or caregivers, and have had to live in fear for their own health and safety. Nursing homes in communities of color have been especially hard hit" Assistant Majority Leader, Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins said. "Senate Bill 2137 offers much-needed relief to these residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to ensure that nursing homes are better equipped to protect their residents from social isolation in the long term."
"Protecting our most vulnerable residents in nursing homes should not be something legislators hesitate to do," State Representative Anna Moeller said. "This bi-partisan measure combats social isolation in long-term care facilities. I am committed to fighting on behalf of nursing home residents, especially when they are too weak or sick to advocate for themselves."
"Having first-hand knowledge of the challenges associated with long-term nursing home care, this legislation is timely given the significant challenges these facilities and their patients have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Assistant Republican Leader, Senator DeWitte. "Unfortunately, in the effort to protect the physical health of nursing home residents, seniors' social-emotional health was not considered, and subsequently there was an alarming effect on the psychological well-being of seniors who were prohibited from having contact with family and loved ones for close to a year. Moving forward, we must ensure a balance between physical and emotional health, and I believe SB 2137 represents a giant step in the right direction."
The proposed bill comes in the wake of 2020 research that shows that the harsh consequences of isolation and loneliness on a resident's quality of life are alarming: 50 % increased risk of developing dementia, a 32% increased risk of stroke, and a nearly fourfold increased risk of death among heart failure patients.
Under SB 2137:
Facilities would adopt and implement policies to combat social isolation of residents.
- Virtual visitation would be considered in addition to existing in-person visitation policies.
- Technology and assistive equipment may be funded through federal Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) Funds and/or other state and federal resources.
- Cleaning and sanitizing of equipment and the development of a resident's individualized visitation schedule would be included in a facility's virtual visitation policy.
- Facilities would be permitted to train volunteers and staff to assist residents in virtual visitation.
- A resident's right or use of personal devices would not change.
- Penalties for nursing homes not in compliance would go into effect in 2023; one year after the stated distribution of CMP funds in Illinois.
- IL Department of Public Health shall adopt social isolation prevention policies within 60 days after effective date of the Act; rules will take into account a facility's barriers to connectivity and Internet bandwidth limitations.
"I have seen, time and time again, during this pandemic what a difference it can make for a resident who is otherwise isolated to be able to see the familiar face of someone they love, or to gather virtually with a religious or recreational group of peers, said Illinois Long-Term Care Ombudsman Kelly Richards. "There is simply no substitute for human connection. That is why it is SO important for legislators to pass SB 2137."
"One way to combat social isolation is to ensure every long-term care resident and their loved ones can connect virtually," David Olsen, the State Affairs Director for the Alzheimer's Association Illinois Chapter said. "This measure is a compassionate approach to safeguard our state's most vulnerable population, including those living with Alzheimer's and all other dementia, from loneliness and resulting emotional distress."
SOURCE AARP Illinois