Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney) has authored the Linda Nevil Act, House Bill (HB) 2324, in an effort to make sure that families are never again completely barred from visiting the most vulnerable to observe and help in their care.
Nevil was a resident in a memory care facility whose health rapidly declined after she was separated from her husband of 50 years, leading to her death on June 2, 2020. Her story represents hundreds and thousands of other Texas residents who have suffered similar tragedies.
“We are saddened to hear many stories of families losing loved ones in long-term care facilities during this time of tightened restrictions,” Sanford told The Texan. “While we understand the need for enhanced protection for our vulnerable populations in long-term care facilities during a public health crisis, we believe that the wholesale isolation of long-term facility residents from their families was, and in some cases continues to be, a tragedy that must be rectified and prevented from happening in the future.”
According to Sanford, the primary goal of HB 2324 is to require nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to be proactive during public health emergencies, especially by requiring them to develop policies that would allow for an essential caregiver to visit their loved one.
Further, he hopes the bill will allow residents to maintain their routine that is so important to the health and well-being of many elderly persons while still keeping them safe.
Sanford also filed a constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 110, that would prevent the right from being restricted in the future.
When asked if he believes Governor Abbott will sign this legislation, Sanford said, “We are optimistic that the governor wants to reduce the suffering experienced by residents of long-term care facilities and their families. Should this bill pass the legislature, we will be happy to work with his office.”
Currently nursing homes are required to allow designated essential caregivers to visit residents, but those visits are limited to two-hours, Additionally, the Texas Department of Health and Human Services (HHSC) does not require that those visits be allowed daily.
Sanford’s bill would require nursing homes to allow daily access for at least three hours. It would also require nursing homes to accommodate the schedule to account for a caregiver’s work and child-care obligations.
Brian Lee, executive director of Families for Better Care, an advocacy group working to improve nursing home care, thinks the bill has merit and will provide some clarity moving forward for families to visit their loved ones in long-term care facilities.
But he also has some concerns that it is coming too late for many. “I think it is kind of a knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic trying to get political points,” he told The Texan.
When asked if he thinks it will actually be adopted by the legislature, Lee is uncertain.
“It shouldn’t be controversial,” he said, “but it is a pittance compared to what they may give facilities in immunity.”
One example of immunity already proposed is found in House Bill 3, authored by Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock). It includes civil liability protection from those who suffered injury caused by exposure to the disease, so long as businesses “made a reasonable effort to comply with applicable federal, state, and local laws, rules, ordinances, declarations, and proclamations related to the pandemic disaster; and the act or omission giving rise to the exposure or potential exposure was not wilful, reckless, or grossly negligent.”
Lee is also concerned about a provision in HB 2324 that allows for a nursing home to revoke the essential caregiver designation of family members for a violation of the protocols.
It allows for the status to be revoked after “an opportunity to discuss the restriction or revocation with facility staff, health care providers, and the resident in an attempt to correct the violation.”
“I think this should be clearer and at least should include the ombudsman in the conversation,” Lee stated. Texas has an Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman that is charged with protecting the rights of nursing home residents, including their right to receive visitors.
Mary Nichols, who heads up Texas Caregivers for Compromise, a group that has worked vigorously to obtain essential caregiver status for Texas families, said of HB 2324, “Representative Sanford has demonstrated a commitment to helping residents in long-term care facilities and is quick to respond to our group members in his district about their concerns.”
“This is a very complex issue he is tackling and I’ve been in communication with his office and shared some thoughts on this bill,” said Nichols. “But I think it’s important that we give him and all our legislators time to follow-up on feedback they receive on these newly filed bills before we comment about specifics.”
Governor Abbott’s recent executive order lifting the mask mandate and opening businesses does not directly impact nursing home residents, which are still governed by the same HHSC visitation regulations. The order states in pertinent part, “People may visit nursing homes, state supported living centers, assisted living facilities, or long-term care facilities as determined through guidance from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC).”