Texas State Senator Lois Kolkhorst, serving District 18, which covers Wharton County, visits El Campo in 2019.

With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing Texans to carefully navigate family events, those living in isolation faced a holiday season unlike any other 

In response to emergency rules limiting family access to long-term care facilities, Texas State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) and Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls) recently filed legislation (HB 892, HJR 46, SB 267 and SJR 19) in an effort to strengthen the rights of facility residents to maintain contact and personal visits with their loved ones during state emergencies.

During the response to COVID-19 last year Texas issued emergency rules that restricted access to long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and state supported living centers, even if there were no cases of the illness present.

Consequently, many families have been denied any personal visits with parents, children, spouses and others residing in long-term facilities during the pandemic.

“I have listened to emotional stories from constituents and heard from desperate families across Texas who were not allowed to see a loved one for months,” Kolkhorst said. “While there is a public health mission to protect our vulnerable populations from COVID-19, that pursuit should not send residents into a state of solitary confinement with no personal contact from family or friends.

“I look forward to working with everyone touched by this issue, so we can ensure the rights of long-term residents and make clear in the law that those lifelines to their family and friends will never be broken again,” she added.

In September 2020, the Health and Human Services Commission updated the emergency rules to allow residents to designate up to two essential caregivers. These caregivers are provided with training to allow them to safely go inside a facility for scheduled visits to help ensure their loved one’s physical, social, and emotional needs are being met.

“These vulnerable Texans need the care, communication and physical touch of loved ones and the experience of human interaction that is crucial to quality of life and to both physical and mental health,” Frank said. “I am heartbroken at the dozens of stories I have heard of a spouse or a parent who died after living their final months in isolation. The Legislature must work this session at ensuring that these tragedies are not repeated in the future.”

Specifically, the legislation filed and accompanying resolution codify a nursing home or assisted living resident’s right to designate an essential caregiver, and directs the Executive Commissioner of the Health and Human Services Commission to establish guidelines for infection control measures to ensure resident and staff safety during caregiving visits. 

These specific guidelines will provide certainty and consistency for caregivers, residents, and long-term care providers.

Kolkhorst chairs the Senate’s Health & Human Services Committee and Rep. Frank chairs the House’s Human Services Committee.

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