As COVID-19 illness appears to be stabilizing in Arizona, some hospitals are easing the strict no-visitor policies that were put in place because of the pandemic.
Visitor rules are not entirely back to normal — there are temperature screenings, mask requirements and visitors typically can’t go into the rooms of patients with COVID-19.
But there has been an easing of some of the visitor rules that have separated many families since the onset of the pandemic in March.
A surge in critically ill COVID-19 patients needing hospitalization overwhelmed Arizona’s hospital system in June and July. Hospitals added staff, hired temporary nurses and respiratory therapists and scrambled to add extra beds and units for COVID patients.
The case numbers have since declined. In a sign of some return to normalcy, hospitals are relaxing visitor restrictions, and many have also resumed elective surgeries that were paused during the spike.
Visitors are ‘vital to healing’
Anyone looking to visit a patient in an Arizona hospital should review the visitor policies at specific medical centers ahead of time. They vary, typically have limited hours for visiting and may include specific rules such as no gifts, flowers or balloons.
Banner Health, which is Arizona’s largest health care delivery system, this week announced it would be changing visitor restrictions at hospitals in the metropolitan Phoenix, Tucson and Casa Grande areas, allowing one visitor over the age of 12 per patient per day for most inpatients, although not for patients sick with COVID-19.
Valleywise Health Medical Center in Phoenix is allowing one visitor for inpatients who are not positive for COVID-19 and is allowing one visitor to be in the hospital for elective surgery. Visiting hours are limited to 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 6-8 p.m.
“The policies are being constantly re-evaluated for improvements as conditions change within the community,” Valleywise Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael White said in an emailed statement.
Most Arizona hospitals have not been allowing any visitors during the pandemic with exceptions for end-of-life care and for births. With few exceptions, hospitals have not allowed loved ones to accompany patients into the emergency room since the spring.
In some cases, the inability to visit loved ones or accompany them into a potentially frightening situation has been traumatic.
In a Sept. 2 announcement about Tucson Medical Center’s visitor policy modification, hospital CEO Judy Rich said when people have medical issues, they need their loved ones, especially when they first arrive, when they need emergency care and on their day of discharge.
“Those connections are vital to healing and recovery. We are so happy to bring visitors back for our patients during these critical times,” she said.
Check before you go. Visitor hours are limited.
Scottsdale-based HonorHealth adjusted its visitor policy last week, spokesperson Craig Kartchnerwrote in an email on Friday. The health care company’s website as of Friday said it would be allowing one designated visitor for inpatients from 4-8 p.m. daily but advises calling specific hospitals before visiting.
HonorHealth is also allowing one visitor for emergency department patients who are not being evaluated for COVID-19 or who have not been diagnosed with it.
Most hospitals have exceptions for pediatric patients, mothers-to-be in labor and visitation for end-of-life.
Officials with Abrazo Health in Phoenix said on Friday the company is allowing one support person for beginning or end of life, “or where the support will benefit care for patients unable to communicate.”
At the hospital’s discretion, one visitor may be allowed during outpatient or inpatient procedures, or for inpatients for limited times, according to an emailed statement from Abrazo spokesperson Keith Jones.
“All permitted visitors must abide by facility requirements of being screened upon entry and wearing appropriate masks/PPE at all times,” the statement said.
“We remain focused on patient and visitor safety, and the status of visitation could change based on ongoing COVID trends. We recommend checking with individual facilities prior to visiting.”
Dr. John Mougin, chief quality officer for Northern Arizona Healthcare, which operates Flagstaff Medical Center, said there have been no changes to its visitor policy since the onset of the pandemic, but a workplace safety team is reviewing the policy.
Northern Arizona Healthcare in Flagstaff temporarily suspended routine in-person visits at the onset of the pandemic, with some exceptions. Patients undergoing surgery or procedures may have one visitor, one time, immediately after the procedure, and that person must leave the facility after the visit, the current policy says.
While it hasn’t eased its visitor policy recently, Mayo Clinic has been allowing one visitor per day in the hospital from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., spokesperson Jim McVeigh said.
Mayo is not allowing visitors for lab draws or imaging procedures due to space constraints, nor is it allowing visitors for patients receiving care for COVID-19 or influenza-like symptoms, or for patients in the emergency department, its policy states.
“Our clinical leadership has been reviewing the visitor policy throughout the pandemic considering safety along with the needs of patients and their families,” McVeigh wrote in an email.
Visitor policy exceptions may be made for end-of-life care, patients who are minors and other unique circumstances as assessed by the care team, Mayo’s policy says.
Bring a mask, be prepared to wait and other advice
Banner Health officials shared the following tips for hospital visitors:
- Bring a freshly laundered or disposable mask. Banner will not provide masks for visitors.
- The cafeteria and other congregation areas are closed. Visitors will need to go straight to/from the patient’s room.
- Because of COVID-19, there will be a health screening for all visitors at check-in. Be prepared to wait in line before entering the building. Complete the electronic visitor health screening on bannerhealth.com before arrival to expedite entrance to the building.
- Arrange the visit with the patient. Only one visitor per patient will be permitted each day. Make sure to discuss this with the patient before arriving at the hospital to ensure visits from others were not already arranged.
- Watch the video on the visitor restrictions page of bannerhealth.com to better understand the visitation process. (For non-Banner hospitals, check their visitor policy online or call ahead).
- Do not bring any gifts, flowers or balloons.
Reach health care reporter Stephanie Innes at Stephanie.Innes@gannett.com or at 602-444-8369. Follow her on Twitter @stephanieinnes
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