James July-Aug 2021 web - Flipbook - Page 55
Many hospital systems that ascribed to a holistic
healing approach allowed chaplains to continue to physically participate in patient care. However, when chaplain
visitation was restricted, association leadership respected
“The key piece of this is that we have to trust the best
medical information we have,” Chaplain Haythorn said.
“With something like COVID, that knowledge is going to
evolve and influence how we react and adapt.”
L I S T E N I NG & E VO LV I NG V I S I TAT I O N P O L I C I E S
s we continue to navigate
COVID-19 in our communities,
families and health systems,
we’ve all experienced polarities
of opinion. One challenging and
sometimes gut-wrenching topic
is family visitation in hospitals— and the importance of
actively managing it.
Understandably, there is anguish about being separated in times of illness. A loving family member by the
bed, their soothing voice, their gentle touch— the absence can almost be as tangible as the illness itself. As
first-hand witnesses to this heartache— many having lost
loved ones themselves— hospital staff sympathize and
acknowledge the healing presence of family members.
separate families,” Jason acknowledged. “But we needed healthy people to take care of sick people. And at the
beginning of the pandemic, we had to do whatever we
could do to stop the spread of COVID. It was our moral
During patient volume surges, I remember calling
nurses who were awaiting test results, or who had tested
positive. This is not a typical illness— the length of time
away from the bedside for those who test positive is a
minimum of 14 days. At times, several team members
on a unit were out simultaneously; some became gravely
ill and were out for a long time. This created significant
staffing challenges on top of a pre-existing nursing shortage worsened by the pandemic.
If we had not introduced visitation restrictions, things
would have been much worse.
Thankfully, visitation restrictions evolved as new information came to light.
“As everyone across the country learned more and
had a better grasp around the risks, leaders asked, ‘How
do we thoughtfully balance this?’” Jason said.
At Wellstar, we support visitation rights whenever
feasible. Uniting patients with their loved ones can be
an integral part of the healing and recovery process. We
listened to stakeholders including infectious disease
experts, nurses, patient families, and faith leaders to implement an informed, empathy-first visitation policy that
struck a balance between safety and compassion.
The result was a color-coded visitor policy that allows designated loved ones— which we call “essential
caregivers”— to visit patients whenever possible. The
facility-specific color coding is defined based on safety
factors, such as current levels of community spread.
When this article was written, most Wellstar hospitals
were moving into green visitation level because of an increase in vaccinations and a decrease in COVID-19 case
rates in the community. In this scenario, most non-infectious ambulatory patients may have two essential
caregivers by their side.
The policy guides what most patients and visitors can
expect regarding hospital visitation during the prolonged
pandemic. As with most rules, there is room for leadership to offer empathy-first exceptions, such as end-of-life
situations and patients with disabilities.
V I G I L A N T A B O U T V I S I TAT I O N
Even as the country’s hospitals find more ways to
unite families and patients when it can be done safely,
some advocates are asking for unsafe patient access. With
compassion and understanding, hospital leaders must
continue to consider the best balance for team members,
patients and communities, prioritizing health and safety.
While we remain vigilant, the accessibility of vaccines
and decrease in COVID case rates have given us hope.
Wellstar and other hospitals across Georgia look forward
to when we can confidently and safely expand visitation
as we serve our communities with compassionate care.
Jill Case-Wirth is the senior vice president of nursing at Wellstar.
L I M I T I NG V I S I TAT I O N T O F I G H T C OV I D
In early 2020, we all heard about a new disease
spreading in China and Italy. Because of the hazardous environment caused by
COVID-19, U.S. hospitals
restricted visitation based on
guidelines provided by the
Center for Disease Control &
Prevention and the Centers for
Medicare & Medicaid Services.
I discussed the ethical
concerns about visitation with
Jason Lesandrini, Wellstar’s
assistant vice president for Ethics, Advanced Care Planning
and Spiritual Health. “There
was a lot of uncertainty,” he
remembered. “In times of uncertainty, we go with safety.
That’s what played out nationally.”
Limiting visitation is not a new measure. In fact,
hospitals restrict visitation during flu season, when patients have infectious diseases like tuberculosis or during
hazardous material disasters. “It was a difficult decision to
JULY /AU GU ST 2021
C OM MU N I C AT I O N L I A I S O N S
Meanwhile, we needed to ensure patient wishes and
needs were met. Staff became creative, facilitating communication between patients and families with various
tools and resources.
While caring for more patients, nurses took on a liaison
role, between patients and
family members. We often bridge
communication gaps when family members are in other parts of
the country. During the pandemic, it became part of nurses’
Additionally, hospital chaplains across the country served
as communication liaisons, relaying messages between patients, families and medical
staff while offering comfort.
“We were aware of the need for familial ties— of the
impact they have on health and health outcomes,” said
Trace Haythorn, Ph.D., executive director of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education.
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