Raleigh, NC – Two new laws in North Carolina will protect visitation and religious rights for patients and long-term care residents during emergencies, like the COVID-19 pandemic.
House Bill 351, known as “Clifford’s Law,” ensures nursing home and long-term care residents are allowed a visitor at least twice per month during declared disasters and emergencies. It is named for long-term nursing home resident Clifford Jernigan. His sister, who has visited him each week for 40 years, lost her visitation privileges due to COVID-19 restrictions. Clifford’s mental and physical health saw a severe decline because of the lack of visitation and socialization that he received during the pandemic.
“We have all heard the stories or experienced loved ones in long-term care who have suffered immensely due to isolation because of COVID-19 visitation restrictions,” said Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin), who is the primary sponsor of House Bill 351. “Clifford’s Law will ensure families have access to their loved ones, which is vital to the mental health and well-being of long-term care residents.”
House Bill 447, known as “Jeff Rieg Law,” guarantees the right of patients to have a clergy member visit them in the hospital. It is named after Jeff Rieg, who spent his final days in a Greenville hospital after being hit by a car. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, his family and pastor were restricted from visiting him. After Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort) got involved, the hospital ultimately allowed the family and a pastor to visit him before he died.
“This is a significant and meaningful piece of legislation that upholds the religious freedoms and liberties of North Carolinians,” said Rep. Kidwell, who is the primary sponsor of House Bill 447. “I am so sorry that the Rieg family had to suffer through this, but I hope it is a comfort to know that Jeff was the inspiration for making this law happen.”