Hospital and Helen Porter limiting visitors

MIDDLEBURY — Helen Porter Healthcare & Rehabilitation (HPHR) on March 12 began limiting visitors to cases involving terminally ill patients, with exceptions for situations when a visitor is deemed essential for the resident’s emotional well-being and care. The new Helen Porter coronavirus-driven policy is based on national Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and a new UVM Health Network-wide visitor policy that was finalized on the same day and distributed to all network affiliate employees.

Porter Medical Center, including Helen Porter, is a part of the broader UVM Health Network of six hospitals and a home health and hospice organization in Vermont and Northern New York. UVMHN instituted visitor limits late last week.

The new policy at Helen Porter is an effort to protect HPHR’s patients from contracting the coronavirus, which according to the CDC is most dangerous to the elderly and folks with existing conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and lung ailments. 

Anyone seeking to visit an HPHR client has to be cleared by in-house providers in conjunction with Helen Porter Administrator Mary Jane Nottonson, taking into consideration current clinical and safety reasons for residents and staff.

Loved ones and friends are instead being encouraged to interact remotely with patients through such media as Skype, FaceTime, email and telephone.

Those making deliveries to Helen Porter must wait in the front lobby for a staff member to assist, including for the twice-daily pharmacy deliveries.

Residents, both individually and in groups, were informed of the visitation restrictions on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Helen Porter staff are being directed to study up on the coronavirus and to diligently tend to their personal hygiene. Workers are being asked to regularly wash their hands, use sanitizing supplies appropriately but not wastefully, use face shields when needed, and to not come to work if feeling ill.

Folks seeking to visit patients at adjacent Porter Hospital — and indeed all hospitals affiliated with the University of Vermont Health Network — are also finding curtailed access due to coronavirus concerns.

Those prohibited from entering the hospitals include visitors who:

•  Are exhibiting any flu-like symptoms. These symptoms include runny nose, fever, cough and respiratory congestion.

•  Have traveled to high-risk countries outside of the United States during the past 14 days.

•  Have had close contact with an individual who is being ruled out or was diagnosed with COVID-19.

•  Are under the age of 16.

The UVM Health Network is implementing additional, rigorous rules for visits to patients receiving acute care.

Those patients will be limited to two designated visitors who may visit throughout the course of their hospital stay. Each affiliate has set up control points in their hospitals to allow screening of all individuals entering their facilities.

Visitors who gain access are “strongly encouraged” to remain in the patient’s room for their entire visit and avoid congregating in waiting rooms, cafeterias and lobbies before, after or between visits.

In-room visits with patients suspected of having coronavirus or who test positive for the disease won’t be permitted. Hospitals will set up electronic means by which to communicate with coronavirus patients.

Hospital volunteer programs have been suspended until further notice.

Only ADA service animals can accompany family members or support people. All other animals, including previously approved therapy dogs and support animals, aren’t allowed at this time.

As is the case at Helen Porter, UVM Health Network affiliates will take extra pains to accommodate those seeking to visit terminally ill patients.

All patients and family members entering Emergency Departments or Express Care/Urgent Care are being screened upon entering into the facility, and anyone presenting with symptoms is required to wear a mask.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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Addison County Independent