ATLANTA – A bill that would trump visiting restrictions and allow patients to have a family member by their bedside during public health emergencies was passed after emotional debate in the Georgia House of Representatives.

The legislature debated for more than an hour but eventually voted in favor of what has been cited as the “most important” bill it will consider in this legislature.

The measure enables a patient to have at least one “designated legal representative” who can visit them for at least an hour each day to make decisions about their care.

After the pandemic closed hospitals and nursing homes to visitors and separated families for months, proponents argued that governments and health facilities cannot keep their loved ones away from their family members.

Acworth, Georgia, Republican, sponsor of the bill, Ed Setzler, told local lawmakers that the bill does not mandate hospital and nursing home visiting policies, but rather access to patients for families who can help them make decisions when they fail can .

“It’s not about visitors – it’s about patient rights,” said Setzler. “It gives the patient the right to have his next of kin by the bed to help him make critical decisions in the delivery of care.”

Medical facilities would continue to have full control over the details of their visiting policies, Setzler said. But without that effort, he added that people like his own 82-year-old father-in-law, who was hospitalized in Gwinnett County after a heart attack, would face decisions alone – like bypass surgery.

Valdosta, Georgia, Republican John LaHood, who runs several assisted living homes in South Georgia, said that as people get older, “their priorities change.”

“Time with family and loved ones becomes much more meaningful when your time is running out. If you are in your final years, months, days or moments of your life, ”he said, noting that he was speaking on behalf of the long-term residents of the state.

“This is more than about keeping people alive. It’s about giving them a reason to live,” he continued. “Avoiding death is not the same as living a life.”

Under the measure, the governor’s emergency powers would not override a patient’s right to a legal guardian.

However, opponents argued that the bill was hampering efforts to combat widespread and deadly infectious diseases. Snellville, Georgia, a local epidemiologist, Democrat Rebecca Mitchell, said the measure prevents medical facilities from protecting staff and designated agents from contagious patients.

“HB 290, as put in the rules, does not sufficiently recognize infection control as an essential element to ensure the safety of Georgians at an individual and population level,” she said.