House bill would open up visitation during COVID, but leaves out mental health, developmental disability facilities

A bill moving in the House would stop restrictions on visitation during emergency orders, like...
A bill moving in the House would stop restrictions on visitation during emergency orders, like the one enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic.(Covenant Health)
Published: Mar. 16, 2022 at 4:05 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, loved ones had to support their ailing relatives through a window, sometimes saying their goodbyes from the outside looking in.

This happened to Kellie Sheridan of the Lake Zurich area when her grandfather died of COVID-pneumonia.

A bill moving through the Illinois House looks to prohibit restricting visitors during emergency orders like ones that were enacted during this pandemic.

“Human contact cannot be duplicated,” Sheridan said. “During his final days alone my gramps asked my mother why he had been left and why no one wanted to see him.”

Under the language of the bill, a healthcare facility would have to provide for at least one visitor to healthcare facilities who isn’t a clergy member. The visitation would still be limited to any procedures listed out by the facility, such as wearing a mask or submitting a COVID test. Additionally, these rules would only apply during an emergency order.

However, the bill does not include mental health care or developmental disability facilities. The language of the bill specifically excludes those facilities and has since the Medical Patients Rights Act was passed in 1992.

Family members of people in those facilities consider that unfair.

“You are discriminating against a large population,” Carrie Leljedal of Illinois Caregivers for Compromise said, citing the nearly 255 facilities across the state for developmental disabilities, which provide medical services. She argues they should be considered medical providers and health care facilities.

Leljedal’s son contracted COVID-19. Luckily, he recovered, but she said her greatest fear was that he would die without her being able to visit.

“Nobody should go through what the residents, the patients or the families have over the last two years,” she continued.

Additionally, there’s still a provision that would allow facilities to deny visitors if “the situation demands it.” The American Association of Retired Persons calls that language too vague and wants an amendment added to require facilities to put into writing why a visitor has been denied.

“If someone’s being improperly denied, there’s an actual opportunity to be repealed,” AARP Lobbyist Steve Anderson said.

Bill sponsor Rep. Chris Bos (R - Lake Zurich) said he wanted to push the bill through and add these amendments in a trailer bill in the following session. He expressed concern that recording visitation denials would take up too many employee hours.

Both Leljedal and AARP conceptually agree to the proposal, save for their specific amendments.

Human Services Committee Chair Rep. Anna Moeller (D - Elgin), said it would be passed out of committee only if there were promises of more amendments to be made. It did pass unanimously, with Bos saying he would continue to work with AARP and Leljedal.

Bills have until next Friday to be out of committee in the House and Senate.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously last week.

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