The actions come in response to pandemic visitation restrictions.


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During the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals and long-term care facilities limited or banned in-person visitation to prevent the spread of the virus. An unintended consequence was that many people died alone or went months without seeing loved ones, and nurses experienced the added strain of compensating for family absence at the bedside. Now, some states are acting to require health care facilities to allow visitors during future public health emergencies.

Figure. Nurse Kat Yi... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Nurse Kat Yi holds an iPad up to Eduardo Rojas, a patient in the ICU with COVID-19 at Providence St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, California, so that his wife can see him on Christmas Day. Photo by Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.

In April, Florida passed the No Patient Left Alone Act, which guarantees visitation rights in all hospitals and long-term care settings. Under this law, patients and residents can designate an "essential caregiver," such as a family member or friend, who must be permitted to visit for at least two hours a day. The law also requires facilities to establish safety-related policies and procedures for visitors, such as screening and other infection control protocols, but the policies can't be stricter than those required of staff. Eight states, including Arkansas, North Carolina, and Oklahoma, have enacted similar "No Patient Left Alone" legislation; others, including Missouri and New Hampshire, are considering it.


New York, Kentucky, and Texas have passed laws focused on protecting visitation rights for residents of long-term care facilities-a population left deeply isolated by visitor bans during the pandemic. Like the "No Patient Left Alone" legislation, these laws allow visits by designated "essential caregivers." In Congress, a bipartisan bill to require long-term care facilities to "permit essential caregivers access during any public health emergency"-HR 3733, the Essential Caregivers Act of 2021-is pending in committee.


In addition to having serious ramifications for patients and families, pandemic no-visitor policies significantly affected nurses and their work. In a 2021 survey of 3,613 nurses conducted by the American Nurses Foundation and Planetree International, 81% agreed that family visitation restrictions created an extra burden on nurses, and more than half said that the restrictions negatively influenced nurses' well-being. Eighty percent reported feeling confident that, during a pandemic, family visitation can be supported "with the right measures."-Diane Szulecki, editor