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COVID-19 has been the great disruptor for many industries, and healthcare may be the most impacted sector. Hospitals that have traditionally served as the cornerstone of their communities, welcoming visitors and volunteers ready to brighten the day of patients, have implement new visitation policies to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

These new visitation standards came not only from ongoing efforts to practice social distancing and avoid large crowds, but because hospitals had to ensure they had enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for everyone entering the facility – most importantly frontline healthcare workers. And as South Carolina continues to trudge through the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic, hospitals and health systems are working harder than ever to follow public health guidance and maintain supply chains that are critical to their response in this exact moment.

Just like the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America changed our nation’s approach to physical security, COVID-19 has created a new perspective for hospital leaders to reassess our security policies and protocols. Lessons learned in 2020 will have a profound impact on the way we plan, prepare, and respond to communicable diseases and other challenges in the future. The new restrictive COVID-19 environment created unintended but positive outcomes like:

  • Improved recovery for patients by reducing their risk of exposure to germs or viruses from outside the hospital
  • Greater protections for community members by reducing their risk of exposure to infection from sick patients inside the hospital
  • Improved rates of breastfeeding
  • A calmer healing environment for patients in the emergency department
  • Safer working conditions for healthcare employees to focus on patient care rather than disease spread, security events or violence.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and the public experiences fewer restrictions in the marketplace, many hospitals are considering adjustments to the visitation policies implemented early in the crisis. South Carolina continues to see a high rate of coronavirus cases, and therefore hospitals will continue to control access to their facilities, screen all visitors, and limit visitation. However, as hospitals begin to see a decrease in COVID-19 activity, they will also want to consider these visitation adjustments:

  • Flexibility with case-by-case exceptions. Appropriate exceptions should be made for certain situations (end-of-life, pediatrics, obstetric, etc.) and should be handled on a case-by-case basis.
  • Clergy visitation. Allow members of the clergy to provide spiritual support for patients. Hospitals can create an orientation for members of the clergy to include appropriate information on safe patient interaction, proper hand hygiene, visitation tracking, etc. Clergy members would be required to complete the orientation and be given a permanent identification badge before rounding on patients.
  • Vendor access. All vendors should be required to register via an appropriate vendor management system before they are granted access to the hospital. After initial registration, all vendors should access the hospital via a common department or point of contact every time they visit the campus.
  • Care support. Consider establishing a new category of individuals serving as “care support” for a patient. Individuals designated as care support should be allowed access when deemed clinically necessary.

Most importantly, hospitals must communicate their visitation policies and all policy updates to their staff and their community. Hospitals should utilize their websites, social media, physical signage, and all communications channels available to let the public know the visitation status of the facility. We all look forward to the time when the public health emergency is lifted and visitation is expanded, but until then, we will abide by the new normal.