In decades past, hospitals had strict and enforced visiting hours policies, where even direct family members had to leave their loved ones’ bedsides at a specific time. Today, that concept doesn’t exist at most hospitals, but perhaps it should.
Medical caregivers have always known the importance of a family’s love and support during a patient’s stay in the hospital. Getting visitors helps patients feel normal in an abnormal and stressful environment. Most hospitals have restricted visiting hours for critical care and intensive care units to keep family and friends of very sick patients out from under foot of the medical staffs trying to keep them alive. But for other more routine hospital room stays, visitors are allowed to visit and stay for extended periods, even overnight if the patient and the treating staffs agree it is useful for the patient. (Consider how many TV or movie dramas have the injured or medically stricken main character watched all night by a loved one as a way to build the seriousness of their relationship or their illness or injury.)
Visitor entry and location verification policies vary widely in healthcare facilities. It’s not uncommon in many hospitals for visitors or family members to park in the adjacent parking garage next to the building, walk through the main lobby without being spoken to by any staff member or security officer, take an elevator to a patient floor, leave the elevator, walk past the nurse’s station, and enter a patient’s room. Most of these same facilities will have cameras along many parts of that trip from the street to the room, yet without any staff or security officer scrutiny, sign-in and sign-out procedures, or badging, the visitors to the patient’s room often go unnoticed.
It’s not uncommon for people facing a hospital stay of longer than a few nights to ask friends or family to bring them fast food meals, pizzas, sodas, or other snacks that may not be on their approved diet during their stay. Consider that some people who have a substance abuse issue may ask friends or family to bring them beer or liquor, or in one tragic case from May 2017, illegal drugs that the patient took and ended her life.
A 30-year old Pennsylvania woman staying in the Einstein Medical Center in East Norristown, Pennsylvania was visited by her drug dealer five times. She was found dead in the bathroom of her hospital room, having overdosed on a fatal level of Fentanyl. Responding medical personnel who tried in vain to revive her found heroin, Fentanyl, syringes, and drug packaging in her room near her body. A 29-year-old East Norristown man was arrested for allegedly supplying her the drugs, which police verified had been arranged through several text messages between the two. The suspect, who had signed an after-hours sign-in log at the hospital, will be charged with her murder.
Hospital medical and security staff must start their discussions about tightening their visitor policies to balance between the safety and security needs of the nursing and medical staffs and the facility in general and the desires of the patient and his or her family to be with supporters and receive love and encouragement from them. Perhaps we need to go back to the days when nurses made the rounds, announcing visiting hours were over, and people needed to leave to let the patient rest and for the staff to do their work on their behalf.