Hospitals in Baraboo, Portage, Sauk Prairie and Reedsburg are relaxing restrictions to allow patients to have limited visitors as COVID-19 cases remain low and communities reopen.
Aspirus, the parent company of Divine Savior Healthcare in Portage, updated its visitor guidelines last week. The hospital went from barring visitors except for patients under 18 and patients in the birth center to allowing one visitor per adult and two visitors per child in its clinics, in-patient facilities and emergency department, said Chief Medical Officer Michael Walters. Those being treated for the coronavirus are not allowed any visitors unless the patient is under 18.
“Our prior visitor policy was put into place to help with slowing the spread of coronavirus transmission as we adopted our safety measures,” Walters said. “As we start to open up, we felt it was important that we relax our visitor guidelines to allow visitors to come in to be with patients, to provide comfort and support, but while still acting within the framework and guidance from state and local governments and other governing bodies.”
SSM Health St. Clare Hospital in Baraboo, Reedsburg Area Medical Center and Sauk Prairie Healthcare also have eased the temporary visitor restrictions they implemented when COVID-19 first reached Wisconsin. The Baraboo hospital announced Tuesday that it will start allowing patients to have one visitor at a time, as long as they wear a mask and stay in the patient’s room during their visit.
Ken Carlson, vice president of planning for Sauk Prairie Healthcare, said the facility adjusted its policies over the weekend to allow one symptom-free “support person” per patient in certain situations, including emergency and urgent care, out-patient surgeries, births and overnight stays. Visitors generally must stay with the patient and cannot return until the next day if they leave the building.
“The goal here is to keep our foot traffic through the building as minimal as possible,” Carlson said.
Like the other medical centers, Sauk Prairie previously was not allowing visitors except for patients receiving end-of-life care. In deciding to ease these rules, Carlson said administrators considered the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the community and the medical center’s capacity for personal protective equipment.
Patients in its primary care, medical imaging and specialty clinics still can’t bring support people — except in special circumstances — because that could result in too many people in waiting rooms, he said.
“We’re being very, very cautious,” Carlson said.
But bringing visitors into the building isn’t a patient’s only option to see friends and families.
“We do, as much as possible, support FaceTiming and Skyping and all that sort of thing,” Carlson said. “Because we’re a single-story building sometimes people even come up to the windows and wave and have a phone, so there are creative things that we’re doing as well.”
The Reedsburg Area Medical Center updated its “ever-evolving document” of rules on May 18 to reflect recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state and county, said Carla Mercer, vice president of marketing and customer experience.
“We meet quite continuously and we are always also meeting with the folks from our local public health department, our area hospitals and things like that, and really getting great recommendations, great guidance,” Mercer said. “Patient, visitor and team member safety is our absolute No. 1 priority and always has been and will definitely continue to be.”
Patients in Reedsburg — except those with respiratory symptoms — can now have one symptom-free visitor per 24-hour period. Exceptions are made for end-of-life situations. Like Sauk Prairie, clinic patients cannot bring a support person unless they have a disability, are a minor or an obstetrics patient.
The Reedsburg Area Senior Life Center and Divine Savior nursing home remain closed to outside visitors except for end-of-life situations.
Each medical facility is screening all patients and visitors for COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, muscle aches, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell, and requiring visitors to wear a face covering. Carlson said Sauk Prairie Healthcare also updated the symptoms it’s screening for to reflect the CDC’s expanded list.
Whether visitors are expected to bring their own face covering differs by medical center. St. Clare in Baraboo and Divine Savior in Portage ask visitors to wear their own, while the Reedsburg facility provides a cloth mask for all non-symptomatic patients and visitors after they’re screened.
As of Wednesday, Sauk County has reported a total of 78 confirmed cases of COVID-19, five of which came in the previous 14 days, and three deaths. Columbia County has had 43 cases and one death, according to the county health department. Its total increased by six positive infections over the last week, a slight increase from the four new cases it reported between May 11 and Friday.
Both Mercer and Carlson emphasized that though restrictions remain in place, people should not delay their medical care.
“Health care is essential and it’s never stopped being essential,” Mercer said. “We certainly don’t want people to be putting off the care that they need, because that’s not healthy.”
Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.
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