Hospitals change visitor policy with COVID cases rising

County COVID-19 cases continue to rise leading to state mandated changes for hospitals visitations in the county’s two largest hospitals

TULARE COUNTY – COVID-19 cases are undoubtedly on the rise, and hospitals have been mandated to adjust their visitation policies to help limit the spread.

The daily case rate per 100,000 residents in Tulare County has steadily rose since the beginning of July. On July 2, there were 1.6 daily cases per 100,000 residents. As of Monday, Aug. 10, there were 1,098 active COVID cases and 83 hospitalizations. Of those, 67 are at Kaweah Health, and 14 are in the ICU.

As of last Friday, Aug. 6, Kaweah Health and Sierra View announced changes to their visitation policy. Kaweah Health said they modified their policy to better protect the health and safety of the community it serves amid an increase in local and statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“We know how important visitors are to our patients, so our goal is to modify our guidelines in a way that will keep patients, visitors, and our team safe,” Gary Herbst, Kaweah Health’s chief executive officer said, noting the significant increase in COVID-19 patients seen at Kaweah Health in the last two weeks.

In step with those increases, starting Friday, Kaweah Health implemented a number of visitor modifications throughout its health system. From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day, patients who are not COVID-19 positive in the Medical Center: can have one visitor each day, visitor can change day to day only; children over the age of 16 can visit, as long as the child is accompanied by an adult and able to follow masking guidelines; all permitted visitors will be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 including fever, new cough, new shortness of breath, loss of smell or taste; and required to wear a mask while in healthcare facilities and in patient care areas per state guidelines. Those who do not have surgical facemasks will be provided one.

Sierra View Medical Center in Porterville announced the same adjustments but said their new policies will begin today, Wednesday, Aug. 11. But both hospitals will have visitors show proof of their full vaccination or a negative COVID test that occurred within 72 hours. Fully vaccinated visitors at either Kaweah Health or Sierra View will need forms of verifications that could be an original CDC vaccine card, or a digital scan or photo of it, or evidence of electronic immunization record form with the vaccination site; or California’s personal digital COVID-19 vaccine record QR code.

Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated visitors are eligible for indoor visits if they can show documentation of a negative COVID test for each visit. For the nearest testing locations, visit covid19.tularecounty.ca.gov/covid-19-testing-sites.

No visitors will be allowed in the outpatient facilities surrounding Sierra View’s main hospital. Visitors are restricted to one care taker of dependent adult or minors.

Kaweah Health’s detailed guidelines for their locations are below:

  • Critical Care: One visitor is allowed from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.
  • Maternal Child Health (Labor and Delivery and Mother Baby): One visitor who can visit all hours
  • Emergency Department: One visitor allowed once patient is in a room. No visitors allowed in the lobby due to space restriction.
  • Surgery/Procedures/Cath Lab: One visitor allowed for pre-op and post-op, but will still need to wait in car due to waiting area limitations.
  • Endoscopy: One symptom-free visitor allowed post-operatively due to space limitations.
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Unit: Up to two visitors with one able to stay overnight.
  • Pediatrics: Up to two visitors all hours with orange armbands.
  • Comfort Care: Two visitors at a time up to four. Exceptions can be made by the charge nurse or nurse manager.
  • Caregiver Patients: One visitor that can change out daily, and can stay 24 hours.
  • Deteriorating situations/emergency situations: Up to two visitors.

Visitor Guidelines at other Kaweah Health locations are as follows:

  • Rural Health Clinics and Urgent Care locations: One visitor allowed.
  • Rehabilitation Hospital: One visitor for the entire stay (visiting hours are limited and vary by unit, staff will communicate designated visitor times)
  • Cardiac Rehab: No visitors
  • Therapy Specialists: No visitors, unless they are doing family training or are needed to facilitate patient engagement in therapy
  • Wound Center: Allow one visitor, especially for family training
  • TCS and Subacute: Scheduled visitation with only one visitor per patient for entire stay. Exceptions will be made for end of life and compassionate care.
  • Dialysis Clinic: One visitor allowed in the lobby or in treatment rooms. While patient is receiving treatment, visitor must leave lobby due to limited seating. Visitors are not allowed in Hemodialysis Treatment Room due to size limitations and state guidelines for social distancing.

In light of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mandate that health care workers be vaccinated by Sept. 30, Herbst said that he is concerned about losing nurses.

“Those are going to be very challenging,” Herbst said. Most concerning though, Herbst noted his concern that Kaweah Health and other hospitals statewide may lose nurses by enforcing the mandate.

“My greatest fear now is that they will either leave the profession all together or leave the state of California and go to a nearby state. A nurse here can get a job anywhere in the nation,” Herbst said adding that Kaweah Health is already down 140 bedside nurse positions.

Vaccinations in the county have seen an uptick though. Last Friday the country reported nearly 5,000 doses of the vaccine were administered. That brings the total of administered doses to 362,249, with 41.6 residents either fully or partially vaccinated. Unfortunately, that leaves 58.4% of the county left without any dose of the vaccinate at all.

Health and Human Services Agency director, Tim Lutz said that if vaccinations continue to rise this slowly, there is a good chance venues will require patrons to show their vaccination status.

“If we see a larger surge in the fall, I think that’s where it’s going to be. Venues will be requiring…people to show their vaccinated status or a clear test,” Lutz said.

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