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Geisinger implements new visitor restrictions

With the recent 2,751 additional positive COVID-19 cases in the state and 10 new cases in the county as of Tuesday, according to the state Department of Health, it is no surprise that hospitals and medical staff are gearing up for increased hospitalizations and strengthening their visitor restrictions — as is the case with Geisinger.

Geisinger announced tighter restrictions will be implemented starting Monday, Nov. 2.

Patients in need of outpatient services like laboratory or radiology work, clinic appointments or outpatient procedures and diagnostics are able to have one person with them who passes COVID-19 screening.

“We are seeing a progressive increase in our hospitals and in our communities regarding COVID,” said Dr. James Edward Hartle, Geisinger executive vice president and chief medical officer. “Our numbers have gone up, in the summer time frame, we were averaging 15 or so in hospitals across the system…they have progressively increased in all the hospitals.”

He added that today’s census includes 70 COVID-19 patients hospitalized with 15 in intensive care.

Geisinger’s visitation policy includes exclusions:

• Up to two parents or guardians may accompany minor patients with limited decisional capacity

• Medically unstable patients may have two visitors

• Patients who are imminently dying (but not COVID-19 positive) may have two visitors

• Patients who have altered mental status, intellectual, developmental or cognitive disabilities or communication barriers may have two visitors

No emergency room visitors will be allowed.

These regulations are similar to those that were in place during the beginning stages of the pandemic, around early April.

UPMC has not changed its restrictions on visitation since early April, keeping visitation at “one support person” except in certain circumstances — patients undergoing procedures and needing discharged, patients who need emotional and physical support, laboring mothers, etc., according to Susan Duchman, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing executive, Susquehanna Region UPMC.

UPMC and Geisinger are also both offering COVID-19 limited visitation with strict protocols to ensure the utmost safety for the patients, hospital staff and the visitor.

UPMC’s regulations for COVID-19 visitation allow one support person to be with the patient, only after passing the COVID-19 screening and once passing the personal protective equipment. The visitor must wear a gown, gloves, goggles, a face mask and a face shield to visit.

UPMC allows visitation from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

For Geisinger, the same applies, but two designated visitors are allowed for a one-time visit unless death is imminent.

Both hospital systems have made it possible for families and patients to Facetime or Zoom while admitted.

UPMC will allow a support person to spend the night, depending on the patient situation, Duchman added.

In terms of hospice at UPMC, two support people who have passed the screening are allowed to visit, and four support persons are able to visit if death is imminent. Chaplins are also available.

For Geisinger patients who are dying, visitation is increased to two persons and visitation is from 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Both Geisinger and UPMC in the Susquehanna region are monitoring their respective communities and following guidance from the Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control as the weather grows colder and flu season persists, and will adapt their restrictions if needed. More updates on restrictions will come as COVID-19 continues, officials said.

“We always make our changes based on what is going on with our patients,” Duchman said. “At this moment, what we have in place is what we believe we will continue to have in place.”

“It’s a work in progress,” Hartle said. “I just want everybody to understand, the restrictions were not taken lightly. But we really felt it was what we needed to do to provide safe care for patients, visitors and staff.”

Representatives from Evangelical Community Hospital provided the following statement from Kendra Aucker, president and CEO:

“We continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation daily. We analyze our current hospitalization rates, surges of COVID-19 positives in our service areas, and community spread in the surrounding counties,” she said. “At Evangelical, visitor restrictions and on-site screening remain in place, allowing for in most cases, up to two visitors for hospitalized, non-COVID-19-positive patients with exceptions made for end-of-life situations. These restrictions will continue, and if we feel the spread is great and we are reaching a maximum number of patients needing hospitalization, we will not hesitate to lock down visitation restrictions like we did when the pandemic began.

“As a healthcare organization, we remain fluid in our response to COVID-19 and will continue to do everything in our power to prevent the spread and to care for our patients and the community,” Aucker stated.

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