The entrance to the Alabama State House in Montgomery, as seen on Jan. 24, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)
The Alabama Senate on Thursday approved a bill that allows essential caregivers to visit patients in the hospital.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, unanimously passed the body despite some concerns that visitation could further endanger patients.
“Everyone has a story of someone that they love, or someone that they know, friend and family or their spouse, that has been affected by visitation issues at health care facilities,” Gudger said.
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The bill, SB113, allows “for every Alabamian to be able to walk in and be with our loved ones at any procedure that’s going to be going on as an essential caregiver.”
Under the bill, patients would be allowed to appoint essential caregivers. Health care facilities would have to allow caregivers to visit the patient for at least two hours each day in addition normal visitation hours by the hospital.
Other visitors would be allowed to visit during visitation hours. Safety guidelines also cannot be any more restrictive than those established by for the facility’s staff.
Some senators expressed concerns about the bill. Sen. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, said that she had visited her late husband every day in the hospital before he died. She said she could not have imagined not going, but she had concerns about the possibility of further infecting him.
“How are we going to ensure that the visitors coming in don’t further expose the people that we just really want to be there to help and support?” she asked.
Gudger said the bill allowed hospitals to test anyone.
With an amendment, the bill was changed to read “facilities” granting visitation rather than “providers.”
Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, had concerns when the bill was last discussed in the chamber over the providers giving permission. He wanted facilities to give permission if they were the ones who may be held liable.
The bill’s name was also amended to read as the Harold Sachs and Anne Roberts Act by Sam Givhan, R-Huntsville. Gudger said that Bonnie Sachs, who lived in Gudger’s district, came to Gudger at Harold Sachs’ funeral and said she needed something because she had not been able to visit her husband in the last months of his life. Roberts is the late wife of Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook.
Gudger filed a version of the bill in the special session on federal COVID relief money that concluded last week. The senator wanted the legislation to pass in that session, but bills not included in a special session call need two-thirds of each chamber’s support to pass.
Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed, R-Jasper, told Gudger that it would be a priority once the regular session resumed.
The bill moves to the House of Representatives.
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