La. lawmakers move to give themselves more say in nursing home visitation rules

La. lawmakers move to give themselves more say in nursing home visitation rules
Right now, nursing home residents can only see visitors if the parish they live in has a handle on the virus. (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A House committee advanced a bill Wednesday, Oct. 14, that would give a joint health committee the right to overturn the governor’s rules for nursing home visitations during the pandemic under certain circumstances.

The bill would have originally allowed individual nursing home residents to choose who is allowed to visit them, no matter how quickly the virus is spreading in their area. But lawmakers softened the idea, fearing opening nursing homes in that way could expose the state’s most vulnerable to infection.

“You’re trying to juggle and balance patients' rights versus the general public within a nursing home and not getting all of them infected," Rep. Joseph Stagni, R-Kenner, said.

The average age of Louisianans who’ve died from COVID-19 is 75. The bill’s author, Gonzales republican Rep. Tony Bacala, said isolation causes some elderly people with mental conditions to deteriorate more quickly.

“(The Alzheimer’s Association) feels like people with Alzheimer’s are dying early because of lack of interaction with family members," he said. "This is about lives saved, but perhaps lives lost to COVID restrictions.”

The new plan, which now moves to the House floor for full debate, would allow the joint Health and Welfare committee to throw out the Governor’s visitation limitations if his rules are more strict than the guidelines from the federal government. It would take a simple majority to vote the rules down.

But the current polices mirror the guidance from the feds, so the bill would have little impact unless the state’s Coronavirus case numbers spike and Louisiana clamps down again.

Right now, families and friends can visit their loved ones if the home they’re in is in a parish with a COVID-19 positivity rate of less than 10 percent. There are limitations for the number of visitors inside a home at one time, meaning most homes are scheduling visits in windows to control the number of people inside the home.

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