Fairbanks Memorial Hospital

Alena Naiden/News-Miner

Fairbanks Memorial Hospital is seen here Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in Fairbanks, Alaska.

The Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association expressed concern Monday about a proposal before the Legislature to guarantee that hospital patients can have visitors. Hospital leaders say the measure would take a clinical decision out of the hands of medical professionals.

Hospitals appreciate the importance of having a support person during a hospital stay, the association said. But visitor guidelines may be adjusted to stem the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

“While the amendment may have been well intentioned, it represents an attempt to remove this type of decision-making from highly qualified medical professionals with clinical training in hospitals,” said Jared C. Kosin, association president and CEO.

At Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, visitation is restricted because of concerns about virus transmission. On Monday, 21% of hospital patients were being treated for Covid-19 and three had died in the past three days from Covid-related causes, according to hospital data.

“To protect the health and safety of our patients, health care workers and community, Foundation Health Partners is screening and restricting visitors,” the hospital states on its website.

Bills seek to improve Covid response

The Alaska Legislature is in a third special session debating bills that include health care legislation to address hospital staffing shortages during a surge in Covid-19 cases. The bills, submitted by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, would lower licensing barriers for nurses and expand telehealth services.

However, an amendment introduced by Homer Republican Sarah Vance would put into state statute language that guarantees patients can have visitors during hospital stays. Under the terms of the amendment, patients would have “the right to have a support person present during treatment and during stays at certain facilities.”

In an interview Monday with the News-Miner, Kosin said: “All the pieces covered in the amendment are word for word in existing regulations.”

The House Coalition, in response, said that “legislators heard from health care workers and the Department of Health and Social Services, who advise that the bill in its current form is more detrimental than beneficial in enabling hospitals to address the Covid emergency. On that advice, the bill will not be sent back to the floor.”

Visitor policies federally regulated

Every hospital in Alaska allows visitors. Federal law regulates hospital visitation policies, which are affirmed by the Joint Commission and other accrediting organizations.

“Unfortunately, at times during the pandemic ... hospitals have been forced to adjust visitation guidelines to balance preventing the spread of Covid-19 with the needs of patients and their loved ones,” Kosin said.

The association understands the frustration of families and loved ones, he added. “No one likes these limits, especially our health care providers, but the health and safety of patients, families and caregivers is the top priority of hospitals and nursing homes in Alaska.”

Kosin encouraged unvaccinated Alaskans to get inoculated to protect themselves and those around them.

“We ask all Alaskans to join us in working to lower transmissions by getting vaccinated and taking reasonable mitigation measures, so that we can return to normal for our patients, families and visitors,” he said.

Contact Linda F. Hersey at 907-459-7575 or lhersey@newsminer.com. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.