Feb. 23—The state's largest hospitals are allowing some visitation for patients who are not suffering from COVID-19 after imposing limits on guests when the pandemic worsened.
Allowing more visitation will ease what has been a distressing part of the pandemic — patients being cut off physically from loved ones, even while in the midst of a life-and-death struggle, hospital officials said at a Monday joint news conference.
However, patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus will remain isolated with no visitation in most cases.
The lessening of restrictions on visitors is in response to declining COVID-19 hospitalizations, which the doctors attribute to people getting vaccinated and following precautions.
But they strongly encouraged people to continue with the measures that work, such as wearing masks and social distancing, even as vaccine distribution increases.
"We know compared to the sky-high numbers we saw in December and January, we are doing much better," Dr. Rohini McKee, University of New Mexico Hospital's chief quality and safety officer.
But she added, "Our numbers are still higher than they were in the spring and in the summer. So, this is not the time to take the foot off the gas pedal."
Visitation policies will be somewhat the same at Presbyterian and University of New Mexico hospitals, plus Lovelace Health System and Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, but people who want to see a patient should check the rules on an individual hospital's website, said Dr. Denise Gonzales, medical director for Presbyterian Healthcare Services.
Presbyterian and UNMH will allow preapproved visitors who are at least 14 years old. They must pass a temperature check and other health screenings, wear a mask and remain in the patient's room.
Presbyterian had only allowed a visitor to accompany a child, a woman in labor or a dying person undergoing end-of-life care. Lovelace had similar restrictions, though it also allowed a person to assist a patient with disabilities.
UNMH had a strict no-visitor policy.
Having family members present, especially with a patient suffering a severe illness, will relieve the burden on staffers who have had to act as an intermediary while trying to administer care, said Dr. Vesta Sandoval, Lovelace's chief medical officer.
"The emotional toll of having to make the connection between family and patient ... was just an overwhelming feeling of responsibility," Sandoval said.
Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center will stick with its current policies. They allow a patient with a serious health condition to have a designated caregiver from outside the hospital, such as a family member or friend, Dr. David Gonzales, chief medical officer.
Another allows a caregiver a one-hour, end-of-life visit with a dying COVID-19 patient, hospital spokesman Arturo Delgado said. This requires additional precautions such as the visitor donning protective gear and the patient being moved to a room further from the COVID-19 population, Delgado said.
All the doctors agreed vaccinations will be key in reducing the number of patients being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19.
As many people as possible should get vaccinated, including those who have recovered from the disease, McKee said. The estimated time a person who has had COVID-19 retains the antibodies ranges from six to 12 months, depending on the study, she said.
"We don't really know," McKee said. "If you do not get vaccinated because you've had COVID, you are essentially at risk for re-infection."