Hospitals expand visiting hours to accommodate patients, families

Several Tennessee hospitals recently expanded their visitation hours in an effort to better engage patients and families, the Times Free Press reported

For example, Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga opened up visitation in its adult intensive care unit (ICU), allowing visitors 16 straight hours of time each day instead of the previous three, 30-minute time slots each day.

The change reflects a shift in how hospitals across the country treat patients' caregivers and support groups, Chris Clarke, who oversees the Tennessee Hospital Association's Center for Patient Safety, told the newspaper. "There is a renewed focus on patient-focused care that means better engaging with patients' families," Clarke said. "Hospitals are no longer just assuming they know what patients' families need, but are actually asking them."

Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey is now open to visitors 24 hours a day, seven days a week, NJ.com reported. Since expanding visiting hours beyond 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., patient satisfaction ratings increased significantly, and more than 14,000 visitors that would have been turned away in the past were about to see their loved ones, hospital President David Shulkin, M.D., told the news outlet. 

Meanwhile, University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinic aims to be more inclusive of who can visit patients, according to the facility's website. Patients can identify a small number of primary support people, such as a family member, partner or best friend who can provide physical, psychological and emotional support, to visit at any hour of the day. Regular visitors can visit anytime between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., with some restrictions on patients in the ICU or burn unit.  

However, some hospitals are still leery about opening up one of the most intense and volatile areas of the hospital to visitors, an area crowded with live-saving machines and monitors. More visitors could mean more infection-carrying individuals, more distractions, less rest for patients and interference in care, some officials worry, the Free Press reported.

For instance, Parkridge Health System in Chattanooga limits visits to 40 minutes, three times a day, citing concerns about privacy, infections and adverse social dynamics, Jerri Underwood, chief nursing executive, told the newspaper. The hospital does work with families who have odd schedules so patients can still get all the family support they need. Neighboring Memorial Health Care System extended hours to one-hour blocks, four times a day, according to the article, while tailoring needs of patients and families.

But more and more research shows having family to advocate and show support for the patient can increase family satisfaction provide caregivers with a better understanding of how to care for their loved ones long-term, according to the article.

Although staff were initially hesitant about the policy change, Erlanger's ICU Nurse Manager Ted Nelson said in the days, weeks and months after the implementation of longer visitation hours, they grew comfortable and responded positively. Family members were even more excited. "They could leave work at lunch time and visit, instead of waiting for those blocks of time that were very limited," Nelson told the Free Press.

To learn more:
- read the NJ.com article 
- check out UW Hospital's visitor guidelines
- here's the Free Press article

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