Hospitals ease visitor restrictions

The Sun-Gazette

Non-COVID patients are allowed a new visitor each day and visiting hours were extended except in critical care areas

VISALIA – Kaweah Delta is easing its visitor restrictions for the first time since COVID cases brought the hospital to the brink during the holidays.

On March 23, Kaweah Delta Medical Center modified visitor guidelines by extending visiting hours and loosening restrictions on the number of visitors that patients (who are not in isolation for COVID-19) can have during the course of their hospital stay.

“Nobody could appreciate the power of visitation more than us. We understand how it benefits the healing process and how it benefits communication between patients and caregivers, so we are really excited about this,” Herbst said, noting that Kaweah Delta will continue to modify its guidelines based on local COVID-19 conditions to protect the health and safety of the community it serves.

Visiting hours are extended from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. throughout the Medical Center, except in critical care areas. In critical care areas, visiting hours will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Every patient in the Medical Center, who is not in isolation for COVID-19, can have one visitor per day but are allowed one new visitor each day. Visitors cannot be individuals with COVID-19 symptoms, children 12 years of age and younger, or individuals in quarantine for COVID-19 reasons (pending testing, exposure, etc.)

Due to COVID-19, visitation remains limited in Surgery and Emergency Department lobbies, but patients will be able to have visitors. Once taken back to an ED exam/treatment room, adult patients may have one symptom-free visitor, while pediatric patients may have two symptom-free visitors. For surgery/cath lab patients, one symptom-free visitor will only be allowed before and after surgery from 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. During the patient’s surgery, visitors must wait outside of the Medical Center. Exceptions will be evaluated by unit leaders

All permitted visitors will be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, new cough, new shortness of breath, loss of smell or taste) and required to wear a surgical facemask. Those who do not have surgical facemasks will be provided one. Those who prefer to double mask must ensure that the bottom mask is a surgical mask or higher (i.e. their own N95).

This is the second time Kaweah Delta has relaxed visitor restrictions since the pandemic began in March 2020. The first came in October when hospitalizations reached their lowest level since the stay home order, but were reinstituted in December as cases were spiking toward their highest levels between Christmas and New Year’s.

At that time, Kaweah Delta allowed just one unique visitor throughout a patient’s stay (excluding those in the emergency department) and the person had to be the same visitor each day. They also reduced visiting hours to between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. The hospital did make exceptions for end-of-life patients, labor and delivery/NICU/pediatric patients, dementia/developmentally delayed patients, and other rapidly changing conditions if they had been pre-approved by the patient’s charge nurse or manager of the patient care units.

Even with the restrictions, Kaweah Delta struggled to stem the surge. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Kaweah Delta had more intensive care unit (ICU) patients than beds and more beds than people to staff them. Herbst said the hospital was operating at 98% capacity, was caring for a record 169 acute medical care patients with dozens of them on ventilators.

The hospital set up a Triage Command Center in the medical staff conference room where medical executives monitored every patient at the hospital and assigned each of them a sequential organ failure assessment score (SOFA) score to gauge their probability of survival over a two-week period in late December.

Kaweah Delta was able to add more beds by converting its pediatrics unit, neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and endoscopy units to adult, acute care beds. It had plenty of ventilators, unlike the beginning of the pandemic, but that seemed to be the last step before death. Herbst said about 70% of patients were over the age of 70 and 70% of those who went on ventilators didn’t survive.

The most difficult part of the pandemic was finding enough staff to care for patients. Noeske said about 300 staff members were recovering or quarantining from COVID, or other illnesses, so most nurses were asked to work three or four shifts in a row. The pandemic also struck at a time when there is nursing shortage across the nation, especially in rural areas like the Central Valley.

Porterville Hospital

Sierra View Medical Center in Porterville has also eased restrictions on visitors as CDPH released new visitor guidelines on March 29. SVMC now allows two visitors per patient in some areas of the hospital, visiting hours have been expanded from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the entire hospital and visitor age restrictions changed from ages 18 and over to allowing visitors as young as 13.

The areas allowing for two visitor per patient include: pediatric patients, patients with physical, intellectual, and/or developmental disabilities and cognitive impairments, as well as end-of-life patients or those in med/surg, ICU or Telemetry who have no signs or symptoms of COVID-19 and are not in the process of being tested for the virus.

Guidelines for visitors in other departments, such as labor/delivery, emergency department, surgery and cancer treatments, visit sierra-view.com for details.

Visitors will still be screened upon arrival, must show no signs or symptoms of COVID-19, can’t be in the process of being tested for COVID-19, haven’t tested positive for COVID-19 and have not knowingly being exposed to a person who is COVID-19 positive. Visitors must wear a face covering upon entry and at all times within the facility, and must comply with any additional PPE while in the patient’s room. Visitors should maintain physical distancing from other visitors not from the same household as well as from the facility health care professionals at all times.

Once a visitor is registered, they must report to the nurse’s station before entering a patient’s room and stay inside the patient’s room until they are ready to leave. Visitors will not be allowed to go to other areas of the hospital, including the café or Coffee Corner before or after they leave but may visit the gift shop before entering a patient’s room.

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