State lawmakers pass bill to require hospitals to allow visitors

“Shirley and Wilma’s Law” unanimously passed the Ohio House of Representatives, aiming to require hospitals to allow visitors during a pandemic.

State Rep. Gary Click, R-Vickery, who cosponsored Substitute House Bill 324 with state Rep. Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, explained the bill’s name. Click, a pastor, said it’s named for two members of his church who died while not being allowed visitors during extensive COVID-19 precautions.

The bill would require hospitals to allow the same degree of access during a pandemic as during normal times, with some caveats.

Hospitals across Ohio have at times limited visitation to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Under HB 324, unless a public health order prohibits it, hospitals would be required to allow in-person visits during a pandemic from “the patient’s family, caretakers or clergy,” plus lawyers and “other individuals providing care or companionship to the patient.”

If a public health order is in place prohibiting visitors, hospitals still couldn’t bar visitation if the patient’s condition becomes terminal.

But those visits must be “conducted in such a way as to not endanger the health of hospital patients, staff or other individuals in the hospital facility,” the bill says.

Under the bill, hospitals could require visitors to wear masks and take other “reasonable safety precautions,” such as requiring prior screening for symptoms. They could limit the number of visitors to a patient at one time, but not down to one.

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