Georgia House approves bill to allow limited nursing home visits

Relief could soon be on the way for Georgians who have not been able to visit their loved ones in the hospital or nursing homes in the state since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Monday, the Georgia House of Representatives passed a bill that would require those facilities to allow a "legal representative" at least one hour of in-person access per day for any stay lasting longer than 12 hours. The bill does give hospitals and long-term care facilities the authority to set any "reasonable safety requirements" for those visits. They can suspend or terminate access for anyone who fails to comply with those safety protocols.

"I feel like that there's a light at the end of the tunnel," said Lori Ballington.

The Woodstock native has three relatives currently living in long-term care homes in the state and has been lobbying lawmakers to pass the bill.

"It's been gut-wrenching to hear someone that has spent their life taking care of others and we have now the privilege of taking care of her, going 'Why doesn't anybody love me? Why doesn't anyone visit me? Where is everybody?'" Ballington said.

The bill sparked emotional debate on the House floor and even House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, took a break from presiding over the chamber to encourage his fellow lawmakers to support the measure.

"I'm here for a friend of mine who said goodbye to his mother through a hospital window while he and his family stood on a helipad outside because they couldn't say goodbye in person," Speaker Ralston shared.

State Rep. Mary Robichaux, D-Roswell, delivered the minority report on HB 290 and warned that the bill could have far-reaching consequences in the next public health emergency.

"We all want families to be together in difficult times. We all want our elderly citizens to have their loved ones close to their side during their remaining years. We all want what is best for all Georgians. I believe we should leave decisions regarding science and health to those who are best qualified to make them--the scientists and public health officials--not to the politicians," Rep. Robichaux said.

The bill passed 137-57 with several Democrats voting in favor. The measure now needs the approval of the Georgia Senate.

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