LIBERTYVILLE, Ill. — A bipartisan group of state lawmakers passed a measure to address nursing home visits during the pandemic or other public health emergencies.

The action comes as countless Illinois families were blocked from visiting loved ones – some denied the chance to say goodbye to their dying family members – in nursing homes at the height of COVID-19.

Illinois State Representative Dan Ugaste (R-Geneva) says he and his household knows the pain. 

“My wife was one of those people,” Ugaste said. She didn’t get to see her mother for three-and-a-half months prior to her mother passing away.”

The trauma from those experiences ignited emotional debate Wednesday on the floor of the Illinois House.

“The reality is when you have a worldwide pandemic, [Governor JB Prtizker] has to have the ability and the authority to make a decision that’s in the best interests of the state,” Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana)  said.

Some on the House floor raised concerns that the proposed measure usurps the Governor’s authority at the height of the pandemic. Amid soaring death rates, Pritzker and governors nationwide placed a lockdown on nursing home visits to help slow the spread of COVID-19. 

But things have since changed.  

Lake Zurich Republican Chris Bos in the 51st District shepherded the new proposal through the state House.  

“We’re just thrilled that we’ve been able to move through both chambers,” Bos says of the measure.

Bill 1405 survived debate in the Senate. The legislation drew support and input from many organizations in the health care industry, putting the decision to allow limited visitations in local hands.  

“Local entities, the local health care facilities, the local long term care facilities can decide what procedures, protocol, what’s necessary,” Bos said. “It doesn’t take away any of the nursing homes or hospitals’ ability to screen visitors coming in to make sure that they meet any procedural protocols that are needed to know that they are in reasonable health.”

Pritzker on Tuesday cautioned that the threat of new outbreaks or future pandemics remains. He also stated that he had not yet seen the measure during this busy legislative schedule.

“We want to make sure that whatever laws are put in place are appropriate, going forward, to make sure we keep, particularly our most vulnerable people safe,” Pritzker said.

Kellie Sheridan can’t forget how her 91-year-old grandfather Bob McGinnis died alone in a hospital bed three months ago at Advocate Condel Hospital in Libertyville. The beloved patriarch survived World War II but like so many others, the imposed isolation due to his Covid infection was too much to bear. 

“Anyone who has a loved one in a hospital or a care facility that is sick needs their family,” Sheridan said. “It is my hope that this changes for future families, their experience, with someone that they care about.”