(WHAM) - One week after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced hospitals and group homes could accept visitors at their own discretion amid the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals in the Rochester region are on the cusp of doing just that.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, local health leaders announced details about visitation procedures amid reopening. Dr. Michael Apostolakos, Chief Medical Officer of Strong Memorial and Highland hospitals, and Dr. Robert Mayo, Chief Medical Officer of Rochester Regional Health, along with Monroe County Health Commissioner, Dr. Michael Mendoza, took part in a news conference detailing the new criteria in place.
Effective Thursday, hospitals will begin to allow visitors back inside their walls on a limited basis, however each hospital will have its own specific guidelines.
"It's very important for us to undertake this process very carefully, because we know that people in the hospital represent among the sickest among us in our county, and we want to do everything we can to keep them healthy and well," said Mendoza.
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are not included in this most recent visitation update.
At UR Medicine's Strong Memorial and Highland Hospitals, visitors will not be allowed in emergency departments, and COVID-19 patients or those suspected of having COVID-19 will not be eligible for visitors at this time.
Eligible patients may have up to two visitors, 18-years-old or over, during their stay at Strong. Patients at Highland may have one visitor. Visitors over the age of 70 are being discouraged from visiting due to risks of the virus. Patients may have one support individual per day for up to four hours.
Visitation hours at Strong run from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., while hours at Highland run from noon to 8 p.m. Exceptions will be made in end-of-life circumstances, oncology patients and pediatric cases.
Visitors will have to be screened for the virus. Support individuals may visit a loved one pre- or post-surgery.
"We're not opening up visitation to everyone," said Apostolakos. "We're limiting visitation to patients of one visitor per day to get the benefit, but not opening it up tremendously. It is a balancing act and, depending on what happens with COVID in the community, that risk-benefit may need to be readdressed."
As for Rochester Regional Health, emergency departments at Rochester General Hospital and Unity Hospital are also off-limits to visitors. COVID-positive patients will not be able to have in-person visitors, however they will have access to phones or video conferencing.
Exceptions will be made for patients living with cognitive disabilities, pediatric patients and some others.
Patients at Strong Memorial and Highland Hospitals will help determine who their visitors will be.
"We'll rely on our patients themselves to let us know who their two visitors will be," said Kathy Parrinello, chief operating officer at UR Medicine.
Visitors will be have to enter through limited access doors and will be subject to screening. They must wear a mask at all times and provide contact information.
"They will be asked some additional information, contact information, then they will be permitted to go to the patient's room," said Mayo. "The state program did require that each hospital have an electronic system to record patient visitation, and so we will be recording their names and contact info in the medical record of the patient so that we can contact them if there is an exposure within the facility."
Visitation hours run from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and from 4 p.m.-7 p.m.
Because policies vary from one hospital to another, potential visitors are urged to check on line for specifics. More information on Rochester Regional Health's guidelines can be found here.
Under the state's new directive, any visitors would be required to follow PPE procedures and other measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus. Additionally, the State Department of Health will require 48 hours to review visitation procedures before they can be put into effect.
When the coronavirus pandemic first arrived in Monroe County back in March, hospitals put strict visitation restrictions in place to prevent the spread of the virus. That included limiting visitors to one person for expectant mothers, children, and some end-of-life patients.
Mendoza said, as we learn more about hospital visitations amid the pandemic, citizens must continue to take precautions such as wearing masks and following distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
"It is especially important that we do not let our guard down. that we wear face masks and exercise hand hygiene and make sure we're maintaining physical distancing and pay attention to our own risk," Mendoza said.