Askunim's Persistent Push for Hospitals to Open Doors to Visitors 24/7 Beginning to Show Results

Askunim's Persistent Push for Hospitals to Open Doors to Visitors 24/7 Beginning to Show Results

by M.C. Millman

Success is in the air after the long, hard haul on the part of New York City askanim, who have been working since the onset of COVID to allow visitors back inside City hospitals.

"Both physically and mentally, we know no patient should ever be left alone in a hospital for any amount of time," Rabbi Moishe Indig, Executive Director of Williamsburg Jewish Community Council, shares exclusively with Boro Park 24. "Seventy to eighty percent of what a nurse does for a patient is non-medical. It's assistance that anyone can do and which a family member does much better and with more heart than someone who is not related to the patient. It's human nature that patients need someone they trust by their bedside. Having a family member close by saves lives and is important for the healing process."

With the advent of Covid the basic understanding of the importance of visitors for patients' overall well-being changed. Closing hospitals to visitors might have been important at the time, but returning the patients right to have visitors by their side was way overdue. 

"It is called visitation, but we're not talking about just having a visitor, which is also important," says Indig. We're talking about having close family members at the bedside to assist and help the patient. A hospital is not a jail. And yet, everyone went back to normal except hospital visitation, which should have been the very first right." 

After a push of a few months between a  group of askanim who met with Governor Cuomo in the middle of the pandemic, urgently requesting he lift restrictions from the NYS Health Department, a pilot program allowed twenty hospitals to permit four hours of visitation. The program came with a promise that this would be the beginning of things going back to normal. 

It wasn't. 

"We met with the Honorable Governor Hochul right after she took office," Indig shares.

During the meeting, the group of askanim asked her to end the visitation restrictions. A month later, this resulted in the New York State Health Department sending a memo to hospitals telling them visitation restrictions were no longer mandated and that hospitals should now allow visitors with appropriate PPE.  

For the most part, hospitals ignored the guidance claiming they didn't have clarity on exactly what the guidelines were. So the no-visitors policy continued to reign in the majority of New York hospital corridors.

This lack of acknowledgment of basic human needs to have visitors while sequestered in a hospital reflected poorly on the nurses who had been lauded since the advent of Covid as heroes risking their lives to save lives. For so many nurses, it was easier to work without any oversite, do the minimum without witnesses, and to ignore the patients in their care without anyone being the wiser. For once, there were no questions and no complaints, no one looking over their shoulder or stepping on their toes, and it was for exactly this reason, as tale after tale of abuse and neglect poured out from hospital survivors, that the askunim and multiple organizations dedicated to a refuah were frantic to see the no visitor policy overturned. 

"Many of these people were the problem, not the solution," says Indig.

But for the majority, being able to say they didn't feel safe with visitors in their ward (while they had just exposed themselves to hundreds of strangers on the bus or train getting to work) allowed the no-visitor policy to remain intact. 

At the same time, these same nurses complained they were overworked and understaffed when seventy to eighty percent of the non-medical part of what they do could have been taken care of and gladly by visitors eager to sit by the bedside of their loved ones. 

And as further evidence of this lack of caring for the lives of actual people, they went on strike last week at two New York hospitals leaving patients at death's door while nurses walked out the door demanding more money and benefits and putting thousands of lives at risk. This was done despite Hochul sending a letter asking the union not to strike so as not to leave the patients alone.

"The real heroes were the nurses who chose to stay despite being members of the same union," says Indig. "Those nurses recognized the value of human life, which is what nursing is supposed to be about."

In her third month in office, Hochul completely lifted restrictions on visitors, but the nurses union still pushed back. This was followed by a letter from the health department declaring Covid over. Hospitals were told to go back to pre-Covid regulations so no patient would be left alone.

There was one clause in the letter, though, that negated the power of the previous paragraphs. The letter gave hospital staff the authority to determine if there might be an exception. If the hospital decided a patient, for medical reasons, shouldn't have a visitor, they could refuse visitation.

"This clause being abused by some hospitals made the whole letter worthless," Indig says, "because they can make determinations whenever they want. They use this excuse constantly because they were granted authority. We get calls daily with complaints about individuals in a few hospitals being banned from visitors. So while things are much  better, we are  not back to normal as long as hospitals are allowed to use this line to block patients from having visitors when most of the time, their reasons are baseless."

The meeting on Thursday, January 5, with the Satmar Rebbetzin, who has made bikur cholim her life mission for the past 50 years, also included the commissioner of the NYS Department of Health, health organizations, including Bikur Cholim and a number of Hatzolah organizations and numerous individuals in the medical field and those dealing with patients in the hospitals year-round. 

Since the meeting, the NYS Health Department has begun reaching out and ensuring the law is followed and that there are no abuses of power.

The health department also agreed to look into cases of individuals who feel that their relative being denied visitors is not being denied visitors on any real medical merit. 

Executive directors of the New York hospitals are working even more closely with the askunim to make sure every patient is able to have a family member at their bedside, 

Additionally, Lenox Hill hospital opened its doors to 24/7 visitors as of Monday, as reported in BoroPark24 here

"Within the next few days," says Indig, "we expect Mount Sinai Medical Center, Columbia, Cornell, and NYU, to come out with official guidelines as well, allowing for 24/7 visitors, so we will go back one hundred percent to what we were before. Everyone should be allowed to have family with them, and no one should be or feel left alone."

photo credit: Flickr

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