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Families question exemptions to hospital’s COVID-19 visitor policy

Published: Sep. 22, 2020 at 8:05 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Providence Hospital has doubled down on its COVID-19 visitation policy that prohibits visitors to patients in the intensive care unit with few exceptions. Some patients have been allowed visits in recent days, leaving other families wondering why they can’t see their loved ones too.

For the first time in weeks, Lisa Butler held her husband’s hand Monday. After fighting for weeks to be let in, she was allowed a one-time visit to his room after he was moved out of the ICU to another unit in the hospital.

“It was like an uphill battle to get in there, but once I got in there this morning, you know, there was lots of tears, you know, I cried. He even made like a big frowny face when I was crying, you know, he held my hand and I held his hand, and I just explained to him the best I could that I had been fighting to get in there and that I shared that I was on the news and he kind of just lifted his eyebrows up, you know, that he was acknowledging what I was saying,” said Lisa Butler. “It was just such a relief to sit there and hold his hand.”

Kyle Butler was severely injured during a rollover accident on his ATV and suffered a traumatic brain injury. He will be transferred to Seattle for care this week, and Lisa Butler said the facility he is going to will allow one person to be with him.

“It was cruel, what I went through the last couple of weeks to get in there,” Lisa Butler said. “It was emotionally exhausting, and I just hope to never ever have to go through something like that again.”

After Alaska’s News Source reported on Lisa and Kyle Butler’s situation, Marvin Abbott flew from Kodiak to Anchorage to attempt to see his daughter. After camping outside of Providence for several days and nights, he was allowed a one-time visit last week.

Marvin Abbott was able to see his daughter, Rachelle, who remained in the intensive care unit at Providence on Thursday.
Marvin Abbott was able to see his daughter, Rachelle, who remained in the intensive care unit at Providence on Thursday.

Lisa Butler said she still thinks Providence should consider a change to its visitation policy for other families.

“I think that the reason we were both granted a one-time visit was because we were making a lot of noise,” she said.

Mikal Canfield, a spokesperson for Providence Hospital, said Tuesday that neither patient received special treatment, and they were allowed a visit based on an existing exemption in the hospital’s visitation policy.

The latest version of the hospital’s pandemic visitation policy reads:

"At this time, no visitors are allowed. Exceptions to this policy include:

  • Under special circumstances, one person may accompany a patient being treated in the Emergency Department, determined on a case-by-case basis.
  • Children receiving care at The Children’s Hospital at Providence may have two parents or guardians, but should stay in the unit as much as possible. This includes the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. Outpatient pediatric patients may have one parent accompany them.
  • Labor & Delivery and Maternity patients may have one partner or birth support person of their choosing.
  • Patients who are end of life may have one visitor at a time.
  • Individuals allowed to remain with patients should limit their coming and going from the facility to urgent needs only."

Kyle Butler does not meet the listed criteria.

When asked why he was allowed a visitor, Canfield said there are additional exemptions that are not listed on the website, but would not provide a list of those exemptions or share what any of those other exemptions are, citing patient privacy.

For Dale Okpik, whose wife is being treated for a traumatic brain injury inside Providence’s ICU, the lack of clarity about exceptions is frustrating.

“They kept on telling me that there were certain exceptions too, and I asked them well, ‘I’m the husband of a patient here you should be able to tell me what those exceptions' -- ‘I’m sorry we can’t give you the whole list of exceptions’ -- So I was bewildered as to the fact of, why can’t you tell me what the exceptions are?” he said.

Okpik said he has offered to take a rapid COVID-19 test to make sure he won’t spread the virus inside the hospital and sign a waiver agreeing not to sue if he were to contract COVID-19 while inside visiting his wife.

“Lisa’s husband went in about the same time my wife did and now she’s been able to see him and Marvin has been able to see his daughter, but they are still denying the access," he said, later adding, “The public deserves to know exactly what the rules are.”

When asked why Butler and Abbott were only allowed a visit after Alaska’s News Source reported on their situations, Canfield said, “Every patient is different and their situation changes, and as their situation changes, they might qualify for an exception when they didn’t before.”

Canfield said if someone who has a loved one being treated at Providence, they can reach out to a patient advocate with questions by calling (907) 212-2647.

correction: This story has been edited to clarify that Lisa Butler was allowed to visit her husband after he was moved to a different unit in the hospital. While he was moved out of the ICU before her visit, Lisa said the hospital would not tell her why she qualified for an exception.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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