Bill would require nursing homes to provide virtual visits to residents, advocates say it will combat social isolation


PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Senior groups and legislators on Tuesday, April 20, called on the Illinois State Legislature to pass a bill that would require nursing homes to offer virtual visits to residents to prevent social isolation.

Advocates of S.B. 2137 say virtual visits balance the safety of residents and social isolation.

“There are real health benefits to allowing virtual visitation. Social isolation has been shown to negatively impact residents’ physical health, with a 50% increase risk in developing dementia, 29% increase risk of coronary heart disease, and 32% increase risk in stroke,” said State Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago), the original sponsor of the bill.

Collins called virtual visits “the next best solution” to reuniting residents with loved ones, adding that residents have had to go without weekly visits from spouses or hugs from grandchildren.

“Social isolation worsens the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Loneliness is a real issue in facilities, and we need to address that,” said David Olsen, director of state affairs at Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter.

State Ombudsman Kelly Richards said the effects of social isolation and loneliness are profound and include a 4x increased risk of death in heart failure patients.

“To this day, residents continue to suffer the effects of social isolation and loneliness which can lead to irreversible damage to their quality of health,” Richards said.

The bill would also allow for facilities to designate a point person to train staff and volunteers in order to connect residents with their loved ones virtually, said State Sen. Donald DeWitte (R-St. Charles), the bill’s chief co-sponsor.

“It seems so simple, making basic technology we’ve all mastered during this pandemic available to nursing home residents so they can FaceTime, Zoom and Google Meet w/loved ones, to let them know they’re going to be okay, or to hang in there when times are tough,” said Rep. Anna Moeller (D-Elgin).

According to the American Psychological Association, social isolation can lead to “adverse health consequences including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity at every stage of life.”

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