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St. Louis' four major hospital systems ease visitor COVID restrictions

"We know having family at the bedside will decrease patients anxiety, it gives them a level of emotional support."

ST. LOUIS — Seven weeks ago, Tracy Dalton gave birth to her rainbow baby Max, as the Omicron wave began to ravage hospital systems, once again.

With hospitalizations increasing, the amount of visitors had to decrease.

Emily Combs, who is the Chief Operating Officer for Mercy Hospital St. Louis said, "We had quite a few co-workers out that same time that tested positive for COVID, so we did scale back our visiting policy. We had been at two visitors at that time and went back to just allowing the one visitor."

Dalton stayed at Mercy, as new life came into this world.

"It was really hard, not being able to say everybody come up. It's hard to have to tell your family, I'm sorry you're going to have to wait because it’s not our choice," Dalton said.

More than anything, she wanted to introduce their newborn to their daughter Alice. But with the age limit at 16 years old, Alice couldn't meet Max right away.

Credit: Tracy Dalton

She was comforted by the nurses stepping in.

"The nurses at Mercy were incredible. They kept check coming in helping," Dalton said.

Now, a few weeks later with COVID numbers trickling down, some visitor restrictions are lifting up.

"We did go back to our pre-COVID visitor policy," Combs said.

Mercy is now allowing unlimited visitors.

As for the other three major hospital systems: BJC, SSM Health and St. Luke's are bumping visitor capacity from one to two.

St. Luke's Hospital is lifting its vaccination and COVID test status for visitors to enter.

  • The four major hospital systems are requiring masks
  • Some are recommending medical grade masks, KN95 or N95 masks
  • Visitors are still not allowed for patients who have COVID-19

The importance of visitors

Heather Thompson is St. Luke's Interim Chief Nursing Officer. 

She shares, "We know having family at the bedside will decrease patients anxiety, it gives them a level of emotional support."

Dr. Hilary Babcock, Infectious Disease Specialist with WashU and BJC Healthcare, says this can improve patient care.

"These two visitors can change day-to-day. It brings direct comfort. Family members can also let us know if their family member is not acting normal or is not feeling well sometimes. It's definitely a partnership and we appreciate having those family members there," Dr. Babcock said.

This also can help nurses and staff members. When visitors were limited, they would step in.

"You're also providing support that normally would be the family and so that support is not only holding someone's hand a little longer than you might have normally done, but you're also looking for an iPad to facilitate a Zoom meeting with a family member. Sometimes it isn't just a hello, but sometimes it's been a goodbye. I know our nursing staff across the country, not only within our hospital really have had a very, very difficult time and have things that will live with them forever," Thompson shares. 

For patients like Dalton, this can be a big impact. 

"I think it's going to help a lot for people's morale, even if for nothing else," Dalton said.


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