New York Starting Pilot Program to Allow Hospital Visitors

new york hospital visitors
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing the pilot program at his daily coronavirus briefing Tuesday.

New York state will begin a pilot program to allow visitors into select hospitals, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday.

As the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping across the state in March, Cuomo and Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker banned most visitors from hospitals – with several, exceptions such as for pediatric patients – to reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission. But soon thereafter, patients’ relatives began reporting of neglect: that their loved ones were lying in hospital beds and ringing for nurses who were not responding – whether because they were overwhelmed or unaccountable without relatives to advocate for the patients – going hours without food or water or basic care, and ultimately spending their final days in lonely hospital rooms, with no communication with their families, who often were unaware of the patients’ situation.

As the pandemic has eased during the past month, elected officials from New York state and city government, as well as its congressional delegation, have urged for a program to allow volunteers who have tested positive for antibodies to be allowed in to hospitals, to advocate for patients and communicate with their families.

At his press conference Tuesday, Cuomo announced a continued decline in the number of hospitalizations, intubations, new hospitalizations, and deaths, and said the state will now begin a two-week pilot program to allow visitors into 16 hospitals.

“It is terrible to have someone in the hospital and then that person is isolated, not being able to see their family or friends,” said the governor. “We were afraid of the virus spread, but this is a pilot project to see if we can bring visitors in and do it safely.”

Hospitals included in the program include Maimonides and Coney Island in Brooklyn; Lenox Hill, NYU-Lower Manhattan, NYU-Langone Orthopedic, and Mount Sinai in Manhattan; Mount Sinai Queens; Montefiore and Jacobi in the Bronx; Northwell-Plainview and Northwell-Huntington on Long Island; Westchester Medical Center; and four upstate hospitals.

Visitors will be subjected to symptom and temperature checks. Visits will be time-limited, and visitors will be provided with, and must wear, personal protective equipment.

Details about the program, including its implementation date, are expected to be released later this week.

Elected officials who have advocated for hospital visitors applauded the news Tuesday.

“These last two months have been heartbreaking,” said Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein. “I have heard far too many tragic stories of patients who were forced to spend their last days alone at the hospital without a family member or caregiver to advocate for their basic needs.”

Eichenstein said he will continue to advocate that the no-visitors policy “be revisited in its entirety until we achieve a level of access that patients and families are comfortable with,” and said he believes that allowing visitors will “greatly enhance many patients’ chances for a full recovery.”

State Sen. Simcha Felder said that “the current patient isolation policies have been unbearable,” and that he hopes the new program “will ease some of the pain and suffering that patients and their families are experiencing.”

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