Minnesota State Capitol Building in St. Paul. St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. Photo: Henryk Sadura/Getty Images

As advocates work to advance a federal bill ensuring “essential caregivers” can visit nursing home residents even during emergencies, one state is taking the opposite stance.

Minnesota lawmakers last week dropped the No Patient Left Alone Act from a key budget bill. The provision would have required nursing homes — as well as hospitals and boarding care homes — to allow residents to have at least one support person of their choice present at most times during a stay. It would have expanded those rights in end-of-life situations and paved the way for compassionate care visits that included personal contact even during another pandemic.

The Minnesota House Health Finance and Policy Committee’s decision Friday to remove the act from a supplemental healthcare budget runs counter to a national legislative effort and to efforts in many states to keep visitation mandatory in future emergencies.

It’s not the first state to reject such legal protections for visitors. Some Legislators have argued that healthcare providers and regulatory agencies should be able to decide when visitors are allowed, citing a careful balance between avoiding isolation and preventing infection.

As of last summer, about a dozen states had adopted essential caregiver or similar legislation, another four had adopted access rules for compassionate care or end-of-life situations only, and seven states had considered bills that did not pass.

The federal Essential Caregivers Act has not been formally introduced yet, but a one-pager by four would-be co-sponsors is being shopped around Congress. Reps. Claudia Tenney (R-NY) and John B. Larson (D-CT) and Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and John Cornyn (R-TX) said the legislation would be crucial for any period during which regular visits are restricted.

“It is vital that we as a society recognize the critical role that family members play in the care and wellbeing of residents in long-term care facilities,” their bill description says. “For more than a year during the COVID-19 pandemic, residents in these facilities were separated from their loved ones – far too many lost their will to survive, and many others suffered untold emotional, psychological, and physical pain as a result of this separation.”