The Oklahoman

COVID patients’ families want access


MIAMI – Banned from the Florida hospital room where her mother lay dying of COVID-19, Jayden Arbelaez pitched an idea to constructi­on employees working nearby.

“Is there any way that I could get there?” Jayden asked them, pointing to a small third-story window of the hospital in Jacksonvil­le.

The workers gave the 17-year-old a yellow vest, boots, a helmet and a ladder to climb onto a section of roof so she could look through the window and see her mother, Michelle Arbelaez, alive one last time.

A year and a half into a pandemic that has killed 700,000 people in the U.S., hospitals in at least a half-dozen states have loosened restrictio­ns governing visits to COVID-19 patients. Others, however, are standing firm, backed by studies and groups that indicate such policies have been crucial to keeping hospital-acquired infections low.

Some families of COVID-19 patients – and doctors – are asking hospitals to rethink that strategy, arguing that it denies people the right to be with loved ones at a crucial time.

“We need to get people thinking about that risk-benefit equation,” said Dr. Lauren Van Scoy, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Penn State Health who has researched the effects

of limited visits on the relatives of COVID-19 patients. “The risk of getting COVID versus the risk of what we know these families are going through, the psychologi­cal and emotional harm.”

Van Scoy said many of the family members she has interviewe­d have shown signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. In newspaper op-ed pieces, doctors have shared conversati­ons with patients who declined or postponed crucial treatments because of the visiting restrictio­ns.

And studies conducted before the pandemic have shown that older patients in intensive care units that restricted visits developed delirium at higher rates than those in units with more flexibility.

Van Scoy said she agrees it made sense at the beginning of the pandemic to restrict visits because protective equipment and coronaviru­s tests were in short supply, and there weren’t any vaccines. But now, testing and vaccinatio­ns have vastly expanded, and doctors say screening mechanisms and personal protective equipment can keep the virus at bay.

Nonetheles­s, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends against in-person visits for infected patients.

“We do not take lightly the sacrifices we are asking individual­s and their loved ones to make. We would not do so unless it was absolutely necessary,” said Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Associatio­n.

Ann Marie Pettis, president of the Associatio­n for Profession­als in Infection Control and Epidemiolo­gy, acknowledg­ed that patients benefit from having visitors but said the group still discourage­s it in most cases.

“I don’t know of any place that doesn’t try very hard because families are incredibly important for the patients’ well-being,” Pettis said. “These are heartbreak­ing decisions that have to be made.”

 ?? GARY MCCULLOUGH/AP ?? Mitch and Jayden Arbelaez say visitor rules were inconsiste­nt when Michelle Arbelaez – Mitch’s wife and Jayden’s mother – lay dying.
GARY MCCULLOUGH/AP Mitch and Jayden Arbelaez say visitor rules were inconsiste­nt when Michelle Arbelaez – Mitch’s wife and Jayden’s mother – lay dying.

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