The Oklahoma Senate last week passed what one senior living association is calling a “compromise bill” requiring long-term care facilities to have a visitation plan in place for future public health emergencies. The measure is headed to Gov. Kevin Stitt for consideration.

House Bill 2566, introduced by Rep. Chad Caldwell (R-Enid) and in the state senate, Sen. Greg McCortney (R-Ada), requires assisted living communities, nursing facilities, adult day centers and residential care homes to provide residents “reasonable access” to family, compassionate caregivers, essential support persons and the Oklahoma long-term care ombudsman. The bill also requires operators to submit visitation plans to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

“For every family member who wanted visitation, there was another family member who was concerned about the spread of COVID in a long-term care community and the increased risk with visitation,” LeadingAge Oklahoma Executive Director Mary Brinkley told McKnight’s Senior Living. “This bill was a compromise bill that will bring more consistency to visitation policies in long-term care communities throughout the state. Family members struggled to understand why some providers had restrictive policies while others were much more open for visitation.”

The bill passed on the same day the Sooner State announced an update to its visitation guidelines to allow visitors who have completed state-certified essential care training to visit a loved one in a long-term care facility.

The bill goes a step further than the updated visitation guidelines, Caldwell said in a statement, because access to residents is ensured unless the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services or the Oklahoma State Department of Health explicitly prohibit visitation or access by outside health care agencies.

Strict no-visitor policies instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic were meant to reduce the spread of the virus and save lives, but they took a toll on the mental and emotional health of residents, McCortney said in a statement.

“I’ve heard from many Oklahomans who said their loved ones declined markedly during the pandemic because of the lack of in-person contact with their families. Even though the goal was to protect the health of everyone involved, the isolation was devastating,” McCortney said. “The point of this legislation is to take the lessons we’ve learned from COVID-19 and make sure that going forward, long-term care facilities have a plan in place so that visits can safely continue.”