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Will Whitmer sign bill to let patient advocates visit nursing homes?

Senate bill 450 would prevent the isolation of 2020 by outlawing executive orders that keep family members, advocates out

A bill awaiting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature would limit the power of government health officials to keep family members from visiting cognitively impaired relatives who are staying in health care facilities. The question is whether the governor will sign or veto the bill.

If Whitmer were to sign Senate Bill 450, introduced by Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, its protections would go into effect after 90 days.

The bill states that a director or local health officer can issue orders that prevent visits to health care facilities, as part of an effort to mitigate a public health emergency. The orders could last for 30 days. After 30 days, however, the health authority would be prohibited from banning patient advocates and family members from visiting the cognitively impaired. The bill allows for certain restrictions and requirements, such as time limits and pre-entry health screenings.

The House Fiscal Agency defines “cognitively impaired” as:

A deficiency in the patient’s or resident’s mental capability or loss of intellectual ability, either of which affects the patient’s or resident’s comprehension, decision-making, reasoning, adaptive functioning, judgment, learning, or memory and that materially affects the patient’s or resident’s ability to function and would include a temporary, medically induced, or long-term ongoing change in cognition.

When the Senate Health Policy and Human Services Committee passed the bill in its original form out to the full Senate, only one member voted no: Sen. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids. Brinks will be the Senate majority leader when a new term begins in January. The full Senate approved a substitute version of the bill by a vote of 33-0.

When the bill arrived in the House of Representatives, officials referred it to the Health Policy Committee. The committee voted, with no opposition, to pass it along to the full House. Representatives approved the bill by a floor vote of 93-4.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were frustrated and grieved that they could not visit loved ones who were dying alone in a hospital or nursing facility. Images from health care facilities peppered social media, with family and friends standing outside windows of elderly patients or residents who was stuck there, unable to be comforted by visitors.

Others were furious as they thought of sick family members being left alone in an emergency room without an advocate to help them navigate an often-chaotic environment.

Stamas did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did Whitmer.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.