Bill Description: House Bill 668 would help protect the rights of residential care and assisted living facility residents to receive in-person visits.
Analyst Note: House Bill 668 shares similarities, at least in purpose if not in construction, with House Bill 601.
Does it violate the spirit or the letter of either the U.S. Constitution or the Idaho Constitution? Examples include restrictions on speech, public assembly, the press, privacy, private property, or firearms. Conversely, does it restore or uphold the protections guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution or the Idaho Constitution?
The last two years have revealed that laws meant to protect residents of residential care and assisted living facilities have been insufficient. Specifically, they have not prevented those facilities from denying residents and their families in-person access to each other.
House Bill 688 would create Chapter 97, Title 39, Idaho Code, known as the "Patient Visitation Rights Act." The chapter includes intent language and relevant definitions.
Its fourth subsection states, "Notwithstanding any provision of law or rule to the contrary, a care facility shall not restrict a patient's right to in-person visitation, subject to the guidelines, conditions, and limitations of the care facility's normal visitation policy. The in-person visitation rights specified in this section may not be made more restrictive or terminated, suspended, or waived by a care facility, the department of health and welfare, or the governor, including during a period when a disaster or emergency has been declared."
A patient's right to in-person visitation should be guaranteed and protected, which makes the intent of this bill positive. There are, however, several concerning issues to address.
The first problem is that the bill defines "normal visitation policy" as "the visitation policy that was in effect at a facility on January 1, 2020." It would be better to affirmatively state that a facility's "normal visitation policy" must not abridge "a patient's right to in-person visitation."
The bill states that "a care facility shall not impose any restriction upon visitation based on a visitor's vaccination status or require a visitor to receive a vaccination of any kind."
This is an important element of respecting a resident's rights, but it does not go far enough. The code should also state that the facility shall not impose any restriction upon visitation based on a resident's vaccination status or require a resident to receive a vaccination of any kind.
Without such a protection, this bill appears to allow facilities to deny a resident's right to in-person visitation if the resident is not vaccinated.
Additionally, the bill says "A care facility may, consistent with the precautions required to be taken by staff and other personnel: Require a visitor to submit to health screenings necessary to prevent the spread of infectious diseases; restrict a visitor who does not pass a health screening requirement; require a visitor to adhere to infection control procedures, including wearing personal protective equipment; and limit the number of persons in a room at one time pursuant to occupancy laws and the normal visitation policy."
In other words, "a patient's right to in-person visitation" may be violated if the visitor does not comply with the facility's testing and masking mandates.
Finally, the bill requires that "each care facility shall post in a conspicuous place on the licensed premises informational materials developed by the department of health and welfare explaining the rights specified in this section."
The overall concept here is quite positive, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
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