(Editor’s note: The bill discussed in this column passed out of the Colorado State Senate on March 29.)
“No one dies alone” or Senate Bill 22-053 is probably the most important bill I have ever championed in my legislative career.
During the pandemic we learned a lot about what we did right, what we did wrong and what we can do better. One of the most important lessons was how we destroyed the patient/family relationship and the health of patients by denying someone to advocate for them or just provide support.
We heard testimony about a two year old boy who didn’t have COVID, but had a seizure and the Flight-for-Life paramedics loaded him up and sent him to Denver from a small community in rural Colorado. With the parents of this boy still two and a half hours away from the new hospital, those parents called a family member that lived in Denver to be at the medical center so that this toddler would not be scared in the new environment. The hospital locked down and said no visitors…period.
An hour and a half after the child arrived in Denver, the parents made it to the hospital but it was too late. At that point, the young boy was non-responsive and would never see his family again. This, like many stories, are inhumane and unacceptable for a civilized society.
The arguments that hospitals are making is they need to protect their staff and other patients from an infectious disease but yet those same doctors and nurses and medical staff still go to the same school events, the same grocery store, the same restaurants or just the same places they have always gone with the same exposures that others have.
Should there be stricter protocols for protecting the patients and medical staff? Absolutely and this piece of legislation allow these health care facilities to place restrictions on these visitors such as testing, required PPE, screening of visitors, signing liability waivers and any other reasonable restriction to protect everyone affected.
One family testified that their grandfather, father and husband left the ranch for the hospital where he went 19 days without his family before he died. Another woman’s only contact with her husband was on her Ipad where she watched him take his last breath.
During public testimony the committee heard horror stories about patients that were unable to advocate for themselves as a patient because of their condition and some with disabilities. In one case, a rural doctor became ill with COVID and was hospitalized. The testimony shared that he was not able to make reasonable health care decisions because of his condition but his wife raised enough of a fuss that she then was able to help steer the doctor’s health care decisions.
Others testified that they didn’t have that connection or relationship with the hospital and that there were some that died because decisions were made without a family member to help. And there were patients in other facilities that simply lost their will to live and died of a lonely broken heart.
A doctor that testified in support of the measure shared that medical research shows the loss of emotional and physical connection with loved ones has devastating effects on mental and physical health.
To me, this is a simple question. Do you choose to stand with the hospitals that currently can make rules much stricter than the guidelines issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services which is the national threshold, or do you think that if your spouse, or your child, or your aging parent needed you, should you have the opportunity to jump through the hoops the hospital can put in place just to be at the side of someone you love?
No one should ever die alone. Everyone should have someone to hold their hand if they are sick. I just hope enough legislators pick the later so that we can change this barbaric practice for families in the future.
Jerry Sonnenberg represents Senate District 1 in the Colorado Senate.
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