Letter: Suspend Privacy Laws Isolating Nursing Home Residents from their Families

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AARP (the nation’s largest advocacy group for seniors) is urging Connecticut residents to petition state lawmakers to temporarily suspend privacy laws that effectively prevent nursing home residents from communicating with family members during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

For several weeks, nursing home visits have been banned, except in “compassionate care” circumstances.  In addition, privacy laws currently prohibit cameras in nursing homes. This includes the ability to connect through SKYPE, ZOOM and other virtual visitation technologies. This law effectively leaves more than 22,000 Connecticut chronically-ill and vulnerable long-term care patients cut off from their families.

Particularly vulnerable are the thousands who suffer from dementia who can’t understand why their families can’t visit… or even see them. Such privation of family contact may result in feelings of abandonment, lead to emotional harm and physical stress that can aggravate their health status.

“Making sure that these residents stay connected to friends and family,” says the AARP, is true all the time, but “is especially critical during emergency situations when visitation is prohibited and there are heightened concerns about health and well-being.”

The AARP argues that allowing virtual visitation for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency will be beneficial in several ways.

First, it’s a patient safety issue, says AARP. Since Connecticut suspended in-person investigations of abuse and neglect, virtual visual visitation that lets families see and speak with loved ones is the next best option for documenting abuse and neglect in nursing homes. Second, virtual visual visitation combats patient loneliness and isolation.Relationships are important. Nursing home residents want to stay connected with their friends and family members.  Third, cameras and other video technology give loved ones peace of mind. People want to see their loved ones, monitor their condition, and communicate with them. 

Specifically, AARP urges legislators and state agencies to “explicitly permit nursing home residents to use recording technology, including internet-enabled devices, in their rooms, and to require nursing homes to offer and facilitate reasonable and practicable alternative means of communication for individuals who would otherwise visit, such as virtual communications.

If the topic interests you, or if you would like to support the AARP petition, you can find more information here.

Chap. Matthew Shulman
Groton

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