New bill would require nursing homes to allow virtual visits

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Nursing home residents in Illinois isolated by the COVID-19 pandemic would be able to visit loved ones virtually under a proposal being considered in Springfield.

The proposal, Senate Bill 2137, would require nursing homes to develop written policies to prevent social isolation and provide computers for face-to-face communication.

During a news conference Tuesday, state Sen. Jackie Collins, D-Chicago, one of the bill’s sponsors, said isolation can lead to health problems.

“Social isolation has been shown to negatively impact resident’s physical health, with a 50% increase risk of developing dementia, a 29% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, and a 32% increased risk of stroke,” Collins said.

Some nursing homes have begun allowing in-person visits after the state prohibited them last March following the outbreak of the coronavirus. However, there are some facilities that still prohibit in-person indoor visits.

“It seems so simple, making basic technology we have all mastered during this pandemic available to nursing home residents so they can FaceTime, Zoom and Google Meet with loved ones,” said Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, the House sponsor of the bill.

The measure calls for funding to be provided by federal community care funds and from fines paid by nursing homes for violations.

“One of the things that really attracted me to this bill, aside from my personal experience, was the fact that Senator Collins had the courage to go ahead and assign a potential revenue source on how to fund this program, which is something that typically doesn’t happen here in Springfield,” said state Sen. Donald Dewitte, R-St. Charles.

There have been more than 77,000 COVID-19 cases in Illinois nursing homes and more than 10,000 deaths.

Lori Hendren, associate state director with AARP, said the pandemic and government lockdowns have taken their toll on residents.

“For over a year, they have been, for many, prohibited and restricted from seeing their loved ones due to state or federal guidance, and the opportunity to connect with them virtually makes a big difference,” Hendren said.





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