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Pro-tip: Check the visitation and COVID guidelines prior to sending any loved one to a hospital or care facility these days. It’s well worth the extra research.
My family was blessed to not have to go to a healthcare facility at all during the 2020 lockdown. For those that had to endure the inability to visit family members, and for those who may have lost loved ones during that time, my heart goes out to you. As I begin to write this post, I fear what I write may come off as ungrateful. For all the hoops we have had to jump through and the complaints I have about the hoops, I still get to visit with my mom. I get to touch her hand, to laugh with her, and to make sure she’s being well-cared for. I do not take this for granted. My sole purpose in this rant is to warn those who, like me, may be ignorant of the fact that all restrictions have NOT been lifted. Unlike last year, we have a choice. Different facilities are handling COVID restrictions in ways that reflect their own business policies, not governmental mandate. If visitation is a deciding factor for you, make sure you know the differences so that you can choose appropriately.
We had a double whammy hit us the last two weeks, and with it, a very stark realization that, while everyday life has mostly returned to pre-pandemic state, the healthcare world marches to its own draconian drummer. My niece broke her leg while rollerskating, requiring a rod insertion into the tibia, and spent three days in the hospital. On the last day of that stay, my elderly mother was brought to a different hospital ER because she couldn’t sit or stand up on her own (making her unable to perform various self-care actions). She since has been admitted to a skilled nursing facility, aka the dreaded nursing home/rehab facility.
Right now, all hospitals are not created equal when it comes to COVID and visitation restrictions. Hospital A, where my mother was admitted, allowed two mask-wearing visitors at a time during visiting hours which ended at 9 p.m. They also allowed a person to stay overnight. This was crucial for the care of my mother because she has severely diminished hearing and sight. We served as extra hands and the staff appreciated the help. Aside from the mask, this was really no different from pre-pandemic visitation (and once they knew my mom had been vaccinated, they didn’t really care about anyone wearing the mask in the room itself). Her woes started later upon discharge, as I’ll soon explain.
But for now, let’s contrast this with where my niece was taken. Hospital B would allow only one visitor during shortened visiting hours that ended at 6 p.m. They would allow no one to stay the night. Now, in all fairness, my niece is not a child; She’s 30 years old and could stay on her own, but she had some mitigating factors that had her mother politely but firmly arguing that she needed to be there with her daughter for that first overnight. I kid you not, it took her five hours of talking to one person after the other until she eventually had to be granted an audience with the CEO of Hospital B to be allowed an exception. Our family text group was preparing for the real possibility of arrest and that we would need bail money before the night was out. Eventually, her respectful tenacity won out. Still, I had to wonder at the wasted time and money of these false obstacles just because someone hadn’t gotten around to updating the policy in recent weeks and had to continue to enforce regulations that seemed so February 2021.
Back to my mom: With the common-sense visitation policy at Hospital A, we thought things were looking up, and were thankful she would be discharged soon to a rehab center to gain strength. Little did we know, the nursing home facility would say, “hold my beer.” She was admitted to the facility in the evening, which even under normal circumstances, is never a smooth transition (admissions staff is already gone for the day, so there’s no one there to show the patient and family the ropes). But their policy made it impossible for my mother to transition comfortably or without fear. There is one policy for all patients and visitors, no matter the vaccination status. The patient is put onto a quarantine wing for 14 days before being allowed to get out of the room (I’ll remind you the facility’s purpose is PT/OT rehab, which usually involves things like, I dunno, walking). Visitation is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is strictly enforced with only one visitor permitted. This solo visitor must reserve a 30-minute-only visitation appointment at least 24 hours in advance (if your mom gets admitted at 9 p.m., welp, you’re screwed if you want to see her the next day). There is a cap on the number of total visits in the facility at one time, which means that time slots fill up fast. In our case, this meant she arrived on a Wed night and the first slot available was Saturday. Also, the number of visits/week per person is also capped, so at the most, I can see my mom three times in a seven-day span.
The icing on the cake in all this is the “COVID theatre” precautions. On top of this rather ridiculous visitation policy, upon entry into the facility, visitors are signed in through an automated screen that takes the temp and produces a badge. You are sent down a hallway to wash your hands in a restroom. They don’t send anyone with you to confirm you’ve washed your hands, and they don’t care what you touch on the way back, including any bags you’re carrying. It’s all theatre. You return to the lobby where you drop all your bags to the germ-infested floor and don the following items: waterproof gown (not a hospital gown but a full-on “I’m here to get rid of the body” plastic gown), goggles, mask, gloves, face shield. Then you pick up all your belongings off the floor with your gloved hands and you are escorted to the patient’s room. Your handler comes back in exactly 30 minutes to come get you. You also receive texts, courtesy of the sign-in process, every minute past the allotted 30 min. If they catch you having taken off any of the items, you get one warning and then they kick you out. Heaven forbid you have to help your mom do something like apply ointment to an abrasion and then dispose of the gloves (or in my case, take off the gloves, apply ointment, wash hands, then don the gross gloves on my way out the door). When you exit, do you give them items back to the facility to recycle? Nope! They won’t take them back, so you have wear them out the door and toss them on your own. I shudder at the amount of wasted materials and dollars in all of this.
Thankfully, the care from the staff is solid from what we can observe and glean from conversations with my mother. That being said, I would have never chosen this facility knowing the stipulations. The HQ is in New Jersey and mandates that all their facilities in every state follow these restrictions. Incidentally, their main competitor in this area (another large corporation of nursing homes) has dropped most COVID restrictions. Their rules: If the patient is vaccinated, two visitors are allowed any time during visitation hours which ends at 9 p.m. Vaccinated visitors do not need masks and visitors who are not vaccinated are asked to wear a mask but not required. They go so far as to note that if there is a COVID outbreak in one of the facilities, everything goes on lockdown, but they still allow one caregiver to come in during the day, as long as the person is vaccinated. As you can imagine, the competition has very few open beds right now in any of their facilities.
If you are looking at placement for your loved one in any kind of facility, make sure you ask questions. An ambulance must take you to the hospital of your choosing. If calling around to determine the best rehab or nursing home, don’t just ask if they have visiting hours, make them describe the visitation process and COVID restrictions. It will save you headaches later on.Published in