New York 22nd District Representative Claudia Tenney is introducing a bi-partisan bill to eliminate the pandemic induced isolation faced by countless seniors in nursing homes, and others in long-term care facilities, won't happen again.

That isolation - being seemingly cut-off from the outside world - was caused by COVID-19 related restrictions when visitors were banned from seeing loved ones in assisted living centers across New York and around the country. Tenney, joined by Connecticut Representative John Larson, a Democrat, and Republican House Member John Rutherford of Florida, unveiled the Essential Caregivers Act (House Resolution 3733) in Washington on Wednesday, mandating that caregivers - often the family members of lose in assisted living facilities - are allowed to visit their loved ones, even if there is a COVID-19 resurgence, or another pandemic emerges.

"Essential Caregivers are not just visitors. They are caregivers in every sense of the word. They help with activities of daily living and provide emotional support and companionship. This support enriches the lives of residents, enhances their wellbeing, and helps them thrive physically, emotionally, and socially,'' Tenney said.

The bill (see full description below) allows up to two individuals to be named as a patient's Essential Caregiver, with access to the patient for up to 12 hours each day. This not just for elderly residents in a nursing, but would also apply to children and young people, and individual with disabilities, living in skilled nursing, nursing, intermediate care, and inpatient rehabilitation facilities. ''Any such facility receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding is required to participate in the program'', a release from the Congresswoman's office said. Essential Caregivers would be required to follow a facility's rules and regulations, including any required testing, PPE, and social distancing.

On her Facebook page, Tenney shared this story of Maria and Enrique, saying the pandemic caused isolation they faced brought-on a rapid decline in their physical and mental well-being:

via Rep, Claudia Tenney facebook page
via Rep, Claudia Tenney facebook page
Via the NY-22 office, here is a summary of what the Essential Caregivers Act would do:
Essential Caregiver Designation
  • Up to two individuals can be designated as an Essential Caregiver by a facility resident in the event of a public health emergency. Caregivers can visit the resident for 12 hours each day.
  • Under current federal law, outside of a public health emergency, residents have the right to receive an unlimited number of caregivers for an unrestricted amount of time. This bill strikes a balance by limiting the number of caregivers and visiting hours during a public health emergency.
  • The Essential Caregiver program applies to skilled nursing facilities, nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities, and inpatient rehabilitation facilities. Any such facility receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding is required to participate in the program.
Providing Care for Loved Ones 
  • An Essential Caregiver is defined as an individual who provides direct care consisting of activities of daily living, emotional support, or companionship to a resident.
  • Access to Essential Caregivers allows quality care for the resident, transparent and timely communication with medical professionals, the right to advocate for the patient, the right to participate in developing treatment plans, and the right to visitation. Such access also ensures civil rights and individual liberties are not violated.
Establishing Strict Safety Protocols
  • The safety and wellbeing of residents and staff in long-term facilities is always a priority. The bill requires Essential Caregivers to follow the same safety protocols as facility staff, which must be clearly articulated to all parties in writing. Eligibility to participate as an Essential Caregiver is contingent upon compliance with all facility safety standards.
Oversight Measures 
  • In the event an Essential Caregiver is denied access in violation of the program, facilities are required to provide written justification to the caregiver and resident within 24 hours.
  • The Secretary of Health and Human Services is required to establish a process to adjudicate all complaints in a timely manner.

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