A bill addressing hospital and nursing home visitation rights passed committee in the Alabama House of Representatives Wednesday after having already cleared the State Senate. State Rep. Debbie Wood (R-Valley) and State Sen. Garlan Gudger Jr. (R-Cullman) sponsored the bill in their respective chambers due to their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic when families were often barred from visiting their loved ones at medical facilities.

“This bill is very personal to me and, I think, everyone that has gone through this,” Gudger said Wednesday on “Capital Journal.” “I believe everyone has their own story to tell.”

Wood said she was not allowed to be with her mother when she died in 2021.

"I think that the hardest part is the fact that you wonder do your loved ones think you abandoned them because you're not there," she said. "... We were told to leave. It created a massive hole. Not only in us but in everyone in our healthcare facilities."

Gudger said the bill allows patients to designate an "essential caregiver" to be by their side for two hours a day "no matter what" on top of regular visiting hours. The facility's procedures would still apply to visitors and physicians may still restrict people from a patient's room, except for the essential caregiver, Gudger added.

"Every hospital can be different. Their policies and procedures can be different at every hospital," he said. "If they so choose to see fit that they put in those policies and procedures that they need someone to be tested if you can see someone have a runny nose or any type of symptom, then the hospital can choose to be able to test that person before they go in. It can't be more strenuous than what the nurses have to do in that particular room."

Grudger said he and Wood wanted to ensure the bill wouldn't put hospitals that may receive federal funds in conflict with the state.

"CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) is the one that funds all of our hospitals, and we do not want to be in conflict with that," Gudger said. "So, let's just say, for example, Ebola broke out… If the federal CMS says you have to shut down, then we'll have to shut down. But this [bill] allows on the state level for us to still have that essential caregiver to go in, but if the CMS says we have to shut down, then we would have to shut down."

Wood stressed that the bill is not an "attack" on healthcare facilities.

"They're wonderful. We need them. They're vital for all of us… What we wanted them to understand is our side, our side of not being there not only for our loved ones but for them too. I think that we all need each other, and this bill does that."

To connect with the story's author or comment, email daniel.taylor@1819news.com.

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.