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Bill would require nursing homes to allow family visits

There's another bill to limit some of the state's anti-COVID restrictions -- but this one has the state health department's support.


Indiana stopped all nursing home visitation for three months at the start of the pandemic, and there are still limits in counties with high positivity rates. That's caused some residents to decline physically and mentally. Indiana has a program to name one "essential caregiver" who can visit no matter what. But the program is optional, and Granger Senator Linda Rogers (R) says many nursing homes have continued a full ban on visitors for fear of running afoul of the state or federal government, or to avoid risking a lawsuit if someone gets sick.


The Senate Health Committee unanimously approved Rogers' bill requiring nursing homes to participate in the essential caregiver program. The bill also requires facilities to allow family members to visit if residents are showing signs of emotional distress or struggling to adapt to the new surroundings.


Vickie Ayres of Indianapolis says she watched her mother decline physically and mentally after a positive COVID test landed her in isolation for three weeks. Ayres says once she was able to visit again, her mother improved for a few days, only to have the facility shut down visitation again after a staff member tested positive. At that point, she says she pulled her mother out of the facility to live with her.


Rogers says when she was able to visit her own 99-year-old mother for the first time in months, her mother told her she'd been "lost" and thought her family had been able to find her.


Ayres and Rogers say the state-ordered lockdown was an appropriate precaution at the time, and Ayres says she's not calling on nursing homes to "fling open the doors." But she notes doctors, nurses and therapists travel from one facility to another. As long as family members get tested, mask up, and wash their hands, she argues, they're no more of a health risk than those staffers.


Rogers' bill would shield nursing homes from lawsuits over coronavirus infections unless they show "gross negligence or willful misconduct," the same language as a House-passed bill granting similar protection to all businesses, nonprofits, schools, and government offices.

The Senate will vote on requiring facilities to participate.