Hospitals across northern Illinois announced new visitor restrictions this week, further limiting the number of people allowed into health care facilities. The new measures apply to Mercyhealth, OSF HealthCare, FHN and Swedish American.
Ann Gantzer is vice president of patient services and the chief nurse officer for Swedes. She said the restrictions reflect the need to protect everyone who comes in contact with a sick person, including nurses.
"We know that up at UW Health -- our parent organization -- actually had a department where half of their nursing staff got COVID from an exposure from a visitor," she said.
The visitor restrictions went into effect on Mon., Oct. 12, for the hospitals in Winnebago County and on Wed., Oct. 14 for FHN. Gantzer acknowledged that the restrictions are hard for everyone, but said that the point is to keep as many people as possible safe.
"We're not stopping visiting hours to just make people angry," she said. "I don't want to say that it adds more work to us, but in reality, it does."
Gantzer said hospitals appreciate the help that families and friends provide. She spoke about how the presence of a loved one is so important to a patient.
"Especially even thinking about sitting in bed, how bored and isolated you are."
Still, the new guidelines will be enforced.
"We're doing the best any of the health systems can do based on what we know," she said. "Curtailing visiting hours at this point -- we know it made a difference in April and May -- and we feel like it'll help us curb this new tide of increasing COVID numbers."
Specific guidelines for the various health systems are as follows:
For Mercyhealth Rockton and Riverside Hospitals
- Outpatient procedures and surgery -- patients may be accompanied by one visitor to the procedure area and will then be asked to leave the building. Contact information will be taken and the visitor will be called when the patient is ready to be discharged.
- Emergency Department -- one visitor per day.
- Pediatrics (not including NICU) -- up to two visitors per day.
- OB Unit -- one visitor per day.
- Inpatient Medical and Surgical Units and icU -- no visitors -- exceptions on a case by case basis for end of life situations or special circumstances.
- Visitors must be 18 years of age or older.
For OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center
- One support person per patient is allowed inside the medical center based on the patient's need and condition.
- Special consideration will be made during critical situations in collaboration with the care team.
For SwedishAmerican Health System
- No inpatient visitors are allowed except for health care decision makers and visitors of end-of-life patients.
- One visitor per patient is allowed in Labor and Delivery, Mother / Baby, Maternal Fetal Medicine and the Emergency Department.
- Two visitors per patient are allowed in the NICU and the Pediatrics Units.
Visitors are asked to bring their own face mask and wear it all times. They will be screened upon entry for fever and other symptoms. Visitors should stay in their loved one's room and limit their movement around the hospital as much as possible.
If the support person cannot wear a mask or does not pass the health screening, support can still be provided through video calls or by telephone.
FHN's guidelines are similar.
- No visitors will be allowed in the hospital for patients receiving general treatment / procedures except for emergencies and end of life situations.
- Patients will be allowed one visitor per day in the emergency room and birthing center.
- No visitors under the age of 18.
For more information on FHN's restrictions, click here.
As you consider the guidelines for visiting your loved one in the hospital, Gantzer wants you to remember another pressing concern for this time of year.
"Everybody needs to realize the influenza / flu season is gonna hit us," she said. "It hits us every year."
Gantzer, who got her flu shot last week, encourages members of the public to get their flu shot, too.
"I think that unfortunately the flu season is going to make this winter for us even harder," she said. "We're going to have two concerns, COVID and influenza." Gantzer said that even getting the common cold will make many people nervous.
"You still can have a common cold, but then of course we're all, 'Do I have COVID?'" She said, "All of a sudden, you're personally afraid."
There is a lot to be mindful of this year and Gantzer said, "We just want patients to be safe -- the staff to be safe -- and the visitors to be safe. That's our primary goal. Our reason."