DeSantis proposes 'Patients' Bill of Rights' after pandemic shut loved ones out of hospitals

As COVID-19 spread rapidly at the start of the pandemic, medical facilities across the country went into lockdown mode, enforcing strict visitor restrictions to curb the spread of the new, highly contagious virus. 

The efforts also meant many patients fought their toughest battles separated from loved ones. Wednesday, Governor Ron DeSantis proposed a "Patients' Bill of Rights" that would guarantee patients the chance to see their families.

"COVID cannot be used as an excuse to deny patients basic rights and one of the rights, I think, of being a patient is that you have your loved ones present when you're dealing with these serious medical issues," DeSantis said. 

He said there's nothing wrong with hospitals enforcing certain safety protocols but shutting the door to patients' loved ones is not acceptable.

"That had huge negative consequences for so many families," DeSantis said. "The basic idea is, you know, these folks need to be allowed to be in."

Similar legislation, SB 988, the "No Patient Left Alone Act" would require medical providers to allow visitors in situations such as end of life, emotional distress, or need for support. It cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee on Health and Human Services Wednesday.

Jason Hand, Vice President of Public Policy and Legal Affairs with the Florida Senior Living Association said, in its current form, they cannot support it.

"It's important that the bill balance the realities of operating a senior living community especially when dealing with infectious disease outbreaks," Hand said. "ALFs (assisted living facilities), they're not built like nursing homes or hospitals. They have a limited ability to contain outbreaks."

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FOX 13 spoke with Melvin Porter in June 2020. His wife, Ann, was inside a Bradenton rehab center recovering from a leg amputation and stroke when she caught COVID-19.

"It hurts my heart and soul that I can’t see her," Melvin Porter said, tearfully, at the time.

Visitation restrictions at medical facilities nationwide kept them on opposite sides of a window, their only way of seeing each other.

"I didn't know where to turn. I mean, I was really scared," Melvin Porter said.

Ann finally made it home this past December.

"It's hard," Ann Porter said, recalling her time away.

Though she wishes her toughest days were spent near her husband of almost 30 years, she hopes that soon, it's easier for others.

"It would've meant a great deal," Ann Porter said. "This is the love of my life."

"It's about loved ones and how much you love them," Melvin Porter said. "If your loved one goes in and dies of COVID-19, you want that loved one or you at least want to see that loved one before it dies."

Though it's not clear what else DeSantis' "Patients' Bill of Rights" will also entail, he hinted that a package with protections should develop over the next couple weeks.