5 ways Florida nursing home visits will change thanks to bill DeSantis just signed

The measure is a response to the way the state directed facilities to cut off visitation during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the media as he visited the drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination site at On Top of the World in Ocala in March 2021.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the media as he visited the drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination site at On Top of the World in Ocala in March 2021. [ Alan Youngblood ]
Published April 6, 2022|Updated April 6, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — Florida health care facilities have a new set of rules for restricting visitation thanks to a bill approved Wednesday by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Senate Bill 988, which sponsors named the “No Patient Left Alone Act,” was largely a response to the early months of the coronavirus pandemic in which the DeSantis administration severely limited visitation at Florida’s long-term care facilities and hospitals.

The state put those restrictions in place in 2020 in the hope of controlling the spread of COVID-19. As the months of isolation for residents and patients added up and complaints from loved ones mounted, DeSantis began relaxing those rules.

Starting with an emergency order issued Sept. 1, 2020, the state began allowing some visitation at nursing homes. By March 2021, DeSantis’ administration had lifted the last remaining major state restrictions.

SB 988 was a major legislative priority for DeSantis this legislative session. At a bill signing ceremony in Naples, DeSantis said a state law was needed to ensure future leaders couldn’t repeat the mistake of cutting off human interaction during a crisis.

“If there is another crisis, I think it’s important that we not lose sight over things that really matter,” DeSantis said. “This bill today really creates cement around those rights.”

Here are five things the bill — which applies to hospitals, nursing homes, hospice facilities, assisted living facilities and intermediate care centers — will do.

Related: Florida family calls nursing home isolation a death sentence

1. Visitation must be allowed in certain specific cases.

The new law outlines a series of circumstances in which visitation must be allowed, even in pandemics or other emergencies. If a patient or resident is giving birth or is about to die, they must be allowed visitors. Pediatric patients can also have visitors. If residents or patients are struggling with a new environment, need encouragement eating or speaking, are going through “emotional distress” or grieving a loss, facilities have to allow visitors. The same is true for a resident or patient about to make a major medical decision.

2. Facilities will have to make visitation rules.

Health care companies will have 30 days to create or update visitation rules that can be no more stringent than rules for staff members around patients or residents. Those rules have to include infection control procedures, but facilities will not be able to require any immunization or vaccination of visitors. And they have to allow for consensual touching of patients or residents.

3. Essential caregivers get greater access.

Facilities will be required to allow patients or residents to designate an “essential caregiver” who can visit for up to two hours daily.

4. Visitors can have their visitation rights suspended.

The new law will allow facilities to have visitors agree to their rules. If the visitor breaks them, they can have their privileges revoked. The rules must be easily accessible from the homepage of the facility’s website.

5. The new law takes effect immediately.

DeSantis’ signature Wednesday made the legislation state law.