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Oschner Health tightens visitation restrictions at system hospitals as pandemic surges


BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Oschner Health system is tightening up visitation rules at its hospitals across Louisiana as coronavirus cases surge, filling up beds and straining resources.

“It is beginning to stretch the system a little bit,” said Ochsner Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Hart. That has resulted in longer waits in the Emergency Room and for beds.

“With what we’re seeing with unvaccinated population and spread of the delta variant, we decided it was time to take some action to decrease the traffic in our facilities, so we are going to be dialing back the number of visitors that can be with patients at our facilities.”

“It is stressing our staff, it’s stressing our physicians, it’s stressing our capacity for beds,” said system president and CEO Warner Thomas. “It’s certainly a very challenging time right now.”

While the updated hospital visitation guidelines will not be as extensive as they were during the first surge of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020, the mask requirements and limitations on the number of visitors allowed depending on the setting have been tightened.

Masks are required and must be properly worn in all Ochsner Health facilities, except for children under the age of two. Visitors must be at least 12 years of age and always remain in the patient’s room.

Inpatient units (including NICU)

  • COVID-19 Negative Adult Patients: Patients may have two visitors daily with one allowed 24/7.
  • COVID-19 Negative Pediatric Patients: Patients may have two visitors at a time, with one allowed 24/7.
  • COVID-19 Positive Patients and COVID Units: Patients may have one visitor per day between the hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visitors must remain in the patient’s room at all times.
  • Fully vaccinated visitors may remove their masks while in a single patient’s room if the patient and visitor agree. Any member of the treatment team may request that visitors wear masks in their presence. If visitors refuse, they will be asked to leave due to non-compliance with our mask policy.

The updated policy includes allowances for special circumstances such as laboring patients and those in palliative or end-of-life care.

In addition to the modified visitor policy, Thomas said they are bringing regular briefings like Wednesday’s back because of the steep rise in cases, noting that there are currently 313 COVID-19 patients in hospitals around the state, up from 74 four weeks ago in what add up to a nearly 400% increase.

Warner said about 97% of those admitted because of COVID are unvaccinated and that breakthrough cases are also on the rise.

“A month ago, we might have seen 5 breakthrough cases a day with none of them being admitted. Today, we’re seeing about 50 breakthrough cases with five being admitted, so we are seeing an increase in breakthrough cases.”

Warner also confirmed Wednesday that the hospital system is expecting to make vaccination mandatory for staff once the FDA lifts the Emergency Use Authorization for the vaccines and that they are hoping the EUA will be lifted soon.

System leaders and physicians in the media briefing emphasized the urgency of the need for higher vaccination rates.

“We’re in our fourth surge. We could have prevented this through vaccination,” said Dr. Katherine Baumgarten, Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control. “So we are still highly encouraging vaccination because we know that’s what’s gonna make the difference in this surge and reduce hospitalizations and deaths.”

Warner also pleaded with the media to help get the word out that the vaccines are safe and effective, to help combat the misinformation that has kept many from showing up to get the shot.

“The comments that the vaccine is unfounded,” Warner said. “It’s just unfounded.”

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