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Hospital visitation restrictions impact those with disabilities and mental illness

Madalyn and Kim Hardee
Posted at 3:03 PM, Jan 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-13 08:10:11-05

SOUTHERN COLORADO — Going to the hospital can be a frightening experience right now, especially for people who suffer from severe anxiety or PTSD.

During the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals across southern Colorado have made modifications to their policies by limiting visitors for safety.

Before the pandemic, visitors were allowed to stay with a recovering patient without any issues. Now, with new restrictions in place, patients are finding themselves in a hospital room alone during an overnight stay.

While some patients do just fine, patients with mental health issues can find the lonely experience traumatizing.

September 2020:

Madalyn Hardee is rushed into emergency surgery for a twisted bowel. Doctors had to remove two-thirds of her colon.

The surgery went well, but things started to spiral downhill during the overnight recovery process.

Madalyn Hardee
Madalyn Hardee

Madalyn suffers from PTSD stemming from traumatic events she experienced as a child.

"Here I had just come out of surgery," Madalyn said. "I was in pain, scared and alone."

Madalyn's husband, Kim, was allowed to stay by his wife's side until 8 p.m., per UCHealth COVID visitation policies.

"The policy they told me was that visitors can be there from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. so at 8 p.m. I asked if I could stay," Kim said. "They said no it's policy that I have to go home."

Kim says he asked hospital staff for an exemption, but was denied.

"At 3 o'clock that night, I got a call from her and she was having what I recognized as being a panic attack," Kim said. "Madalyn has a history of PTSD from early childhood trauma."

Madalyn was eventually placed on suicide watch by hospital staff.

"They took my phone which was so traumatic," she said. "I said please let me talk to someone---a hospitalist that can override this stuff. A friend of mine told me there was such a thing and they said there's no one (to talk with)."

Our research found the statement reportedly made to Madalyn by hospital staff is false.

According to UCHealth's own visitation policy, patients with disabilities may have specific needs for support.

UCHealth
UCHealth Memorial

UCHealth says all the patient needs to do is ask their nurse, healthcare provider or someone at the information desk for assistance with requesting an exemption.

Kim says he followed these steps and spoke with both a nurse supervisor and patient representative for UCHealth.

UCHealth did investigate this issue and a patient representative ultimately apologized for their experience.

"We are very sorry that you were disappointed with your experience," J. Shannon Smith, a patient representative said in a letter to the family. "Please be assured that issues raised will be reviewed and the responsible administrative and supervisory staff will take appropriate follow-up action."

We also checked on hospital visitation exemptions and policies for people with special needs at three of the other major hospitals in southern Colorado---Penrose St. Francis, St. Mary Corwin, and Parkview.

"Case by case on the day in question, Parkview leadership will review the request for more than one visitor or an overnight visitor and grant certain exceptions," Dr. Sandeep Vijan, Parkview's chief medical officer said.

Parkview is currently allowing 1 daytime visitor, but like many hospitals, they've altered their normal hospital visitation rules during COVID.

You can view Parkview's up-to-date visitation policies here.

If a patient with disabilities has a pre-planned surgery or visit, those patients may still apply for an exemption---but you should call head to request one.

For unplanned emergencies for patients with disabilities, Dr. Vijan says exemptions can still be made in-person.

"They can notify our staff at the front entrance when they have a special need," Dr. Vijan said. "They (our staff) will know who to call. It's usually our nursing supervisor or administrator making that call."

Other exemptions outside the modified visitation hours at Parkview include cases where a patient is at end-of-life care, a mother is delivering a child, or ER visits involving children.

St. Mary Corwin and Penrose St. Francis fall under Centura Health and offer similar exemptions for end-of-life care, pediatric patients, and labor and delivery cases.

Exemptions at Hospitals

Exemptions can be made for patients with disabilities as well.

Centura released the following information:

Patients with disabilities (which is defined by the ADA as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment) who require help with the provision of medical or behavioral health care, activities of daily living, speaking for the patient or keeping the patient safe, may have a designated assistance person if requested. Appropriate PPE must be worn.

You can view Centura's current visitation policies here.

St. Francis Hospital

Tips for patients with disabilities and their family members:

Always check your hospital's visitation policies before visiting. These policies and procedures are constantly being updated as the pandemic continues.

Call ahead if you'd like to request an exemption or learn about exemption requirements. Even though you may qualify for an exemption based on the information provided by the hospital online, never assume you're "good to go". There's usually a chain of command for authorizing such exemptions during COVID-19.

If you don't have time to call ahead, you can always ask to speak to a lead nurse or hospital administrator on staff.

If you feel you're concerns aren't being handled appropriately, you can ask to speak with a patient representative. Most major hospitals across the country have them.

"The reason we're going public with this, we're not in it for the money or anything but just don't want this to happen to anyone else," Kim said.

UCHealth's current visitation policies can be found here.

Do you have a story idea for News 5 Investigates to look into? Email us: News5Investigates@KOAA.com.

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