By CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd

(CBS4) – A bill aimed at making sure people can visit their loved ones in health care facilities may be in danger of dying with just three days left in the Colorado legislative session.

The bill would require all health care facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities, to allow patients to have at least one screened visitor a day unless the CDC has recommended a more restrictive visitation policy. It’s aimed at avoiding the heartbreaking stories that emerged during the COVID pandemic of patients dying alone.

Elizabeth Reiter is one of those patients. She was hospitalized two years ago due to an infection. On Mother’s Day, the mother of two took a turn for the worse and, a week later, she died alone due to a no visitation policy at the hospital.

(credit: Reiter Family)

Her husband Steve described her as the love of his life.

“She was just a beautiful soul, kind and loving. I believe with everything in me that, had there been one screened visitor per day, she would have gone into the hospital earlier and would likely be home.”

In his pain, Reiter has found purpose, launching NeverAlonePandemic.org to push for laws that protect against forced isolation in health care facilities.

“Can’t we balance the need to protect doctors, nurses and staff with giving a person the minimum love and touch they need?”

A bill by state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg is aimed at doing just that. Sonnenberg says it would protect families’ wishes and caregivers’ health.

“Put all the rules you want in place, but let me hold my wife’s hand if she’s dying and let me advocate for my father who’s half deaf and half blind and can’t hear what the doctor is saying,” Sonnenberg said.

Sonnenberg, who is term-limited this year, says the bill is maybe the most important one he’s carried in his 16 years at the Colorado State Capitol. It came out of the Senate a month ago after being assigned to committees that were expected to kill it but didn’t. With just three days left in the session, it was finally assigned to the House State Affairs Committee but, as of Monday evening, it had not been heard.

Sonnenberg says he added every amendment the Colorado Hospital Association asked for and still the bill may die. But the conversation, he says, won’t.

“People are starting to become aware of the travesties that have been perpetrated on families,” Sonnenberg said.

The families include Sonnenberg’s neighbors. He says both their grandfather and their 2-year-old son died alone in a hospital because of no visitation policies.

“That’s unacceptable in anyone’s book.”

Steve Reiter says history will be on the side of those who don’t leave people to die alone in health care facilities.

“When we look back 10 or 15 years from now we’ll say ‘What were we doing?’ We’ve lost our humanity in this and we need to capture it back.”

Shaun Boyd