GALLIPOLIS — Holzer Health System has updated its visitor policy in an effort to reduce the effects of rising COVID-19 cases in the area on patients and staff, according to the organization. Following the updated policy on visitors, Holzer also released information regarding vaccinations as it relates to employees and vendors.
Holzer announced on Friday, in an effort to avoid restricting visitors as a whole, it is requiring any visitor to the Second, Fourth and Inpatient Rehab unit on the Fifth floors of the main campus in Gallipolis, and second floor of Holzer Medical Center Jackson, be fully vaccinated. The vaccination policy does not apply to Maternity or Pediatric units. Also, this policy does not apply to patients attending office/doctor appointments in clinic facilities.
All visitors must also wear a mask while in the facilities.
Holzer’s official statement also included the following: “Our priority, now and any time, is to protect the communities we serve. We have a high number of patients in our hospitals who are requiring much care and are very sick. Our hospitals are reaching capacity. Our Emergency Departments are reaching capacity. And we have experienced restrictions with staff by unnecessary exposure, which results in quarantine. These policies are in place to protect your loved ones and we ask that you respect these guidelines during a very difficult time for all.”
According to Holzer CEO, Dr. Michael Canady, MD, FACHE, FACS, who spoke with Ohio Valley Publishing (OVP), the decision comes after rising area COVID numbers and Holzer’s effort to diminish unintentional virus exposure to patients and staff via visitors – a situation which Canady said had already occurred. Dr. Canady explained when exposure happens, staff members and patients are quarantined for a period of time, pulling employees from other areas to cover the patient load. He said last week, as many as 29 nurses were out due to COVID exposure and quarantining procedures.
“This [vaccination policy for visitors] was just an opportunity for us to look at what we could do to try and mitigate this situation to the best of our ability,” Canady said, further explaining this was “purely a safety issue.”
As of Friday, Canady said Holzer’s main campus in Gallipolis had 16 to 18 COVID patients, with as many as 23 earlier that week. Holzer has a capacity to treat 25 COVID patients currently, according to Canady, who added three to four of those patients treated last week, were on ventilators. Canady explained at the height of COVID in the community in January, Holzer “maxed out” at treating 43 patients on the COVID unit. He said treating those 43 patients took a “tremendous toll” on staff in the ICU at the time and that was a time when there was more staff, earlier on in the pandemic.
Last week, when Holzer was nearing its capacity of treating 25 COVID patients with 23 patients, Canady said it was “pretty intense, because they are sicker than what they (staff) saw before.”
The COVID patients Holzer is seeing, are “almost without exception” patients who are not vaccinated, Canady said, adding, there have also been a few fully vaccinated patients with COVID but “they are the exception, not the rule.” Canady explained, many of the fully vaccinated [also known as breakthrough cases] are patients who are immunocompromised and with preexisting conditions.
The difference between previous surges of the virus and this latest round, in regards to area patients, is the fact “it is affecting young people,” Canady said.
“They are younger, sicker and requiring more care compared to the high numbers we had last winter,” Canady said, explaining the biggest factor is those patients are generally unvaccinated.
“This has been an issue of the unvaccinated since the beginning [of the pandemic],” he said.
Canady recently spoke at a Gallia Academy High School football game in support of vaccinations and he said, if he could make one plea, it would be to ask those who are eligible to consider getting the vaccine, citing what he felt were its safety and efficacy, noting, it was also his opinion that any side effects from the vaccine were far less than the negative effects of getting COVID. However, Canady acknowledged the decision to get vaccinated was a personal one.
“I respect an individual’s right not to get the vaccine and I would hope those visitors would respect our sincere desire to protect our patients and staff as best we can,” Canady said.
Also, on Monday, Holzer sent the following statement to OVP, regarding its policy on employee vaccination, “Effective September 1, Holzer is requiring all physicians, staff, contract employees and vendors to be vaccinated. For those that aren’t able to get the COVID-19 vaccination, N95 masks and face shields will be required while at work.”
© 2021 Ohio Valley Publishing, all rights reserved.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.