Three local hospitals adjusted visitor restrictions put in place because of COVID-19, starting Oct. 12. Patients are now allowed to receive one visitor 18 or older per day, Martine Pollard, executive director of community and public relations at Mercy, said in a joint statement.
Mercy Northwest Arkansas Hospital, Northwest Health and Washington Regional Medical Center stopped permitting most patient visitations in March to protect staff, patients and community members to curb the spread of COVID-19. These limitations also helped to ensure an adequate supply of personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves were available to healthcare workers during global shortages, according to the hospitals’ official statement.
Visitors must wear masks and have their temperatures checked by employees at the door. Waiting rooms are temporarily closed and visitors must wait in the patient’s room or their vehicle while their loved ones undergo procedures.
“Clinically we know when patients are with their loved ones, it can be critical to their healing and recovery,” said Charlotte Rankin, Mercy Northwest Arkansas’ chief administrative officer and chief nursing officer, in the joint statement. “Earlier this year, we made the difficult decision to limit patient visits due to COVID-19. We hope these modified visitor policies will help in making healing connections again.”
These modifications come as Washington County officials reported 42 new active COVID-19 cases Wednesday, for a total of 545 active cases in the county. Statewide hospitalizations due to the virus also reached a record high of 637 Tuesday, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.
While the three hospitals' policies are fairly uniform, there are some differences in specific guidelines between the facilities.
Neonatal intensive care unit and obstetrics patients at Northwest Health and Mercy are allowed up to two visitors per day who can come and go as needed. Washington Regional will allow NICU patients to have two visitors, but they may only leave and return once per day.
Those visiting surgical patients at Mercy may be in the patient room for 30 minutes before the surgery and one hour after its completion, according to the hospital’s leadership team.
Screening stations are set up at limited entrances at each hospital campus, and hospital staff is urging visitors to bring their own masks. All three hospitals specify masks must be worn over the mouth and nose.
“Our area healthcare systems meet frequently, collaborating and developing protocols, like visitor policies, that have been effective in lowering the spread of COVID-19,” Rankin said in the statement. “We agreed based on our infectious disease experts’ recommendations, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, positivity rates, and active cases, that it [was] an appropriate time to modify our restrictions.”
Patients receiving end-of-life care at any of the hospitals for COVID-19 or other unrelated illnesses will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and may be allowed several visitors.
Hospital staff will continue to assess the spread of COVID-19 and gradually adjust visitor restrictions, according to Northwest Health.
“At Northwest Health we recognize that the role of family and friends is important to those healing and seeking care in a hospital environment,” a hospital statement said. “Whether it’s to lift the spirits of our patients or to be an advocate for their loved one while they’re in the hospital, visitors are a valued member of a patient’s care team.”