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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. –  Health and safety in a COVID-19 era look drastically different than before. Take for instance Huntsville Hospital’s visitation policy.

“We were definitely going toward a very open visitation, allowing all caregivers’ families visitors, and when the pandemic hit we definitely had to make some adjustments,” explained Huntsville Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Arin Zapf.

Overnight the policy went from relaxed to strictly limited. Most visitors could no longer come to the hospital to check on their loved ones with some narrow exceptions.

‘That’s not been easy,” explained Zapf. “I think for anyone it is a major adjustment and communication is key when you’ve got a patient in the hospital and their caregiver can’t be here by their side for instructions, for education, for updates and involvement, it becomes a real challenge.”

Clinical staff were instructed to develop communication plans with patients and their families at the start of care to keep everyone in the loop

During this period, phone and video calls have been the hospital’s go-to methods of communication.

But some patients are unable to make decisions for themselves, the hospital says it recognizes some caregivers need to be physically present.

“What we’re really trying to do is relook at our guidelines now and providing that distinction between a visitor and a caregiver,” added Zapf. “There are certain circumstances here that we need the caregiver here but we need that point of contact here, end of life, compassionate care situations.”

Hospital officials are working on new guidelines to further involve caregivers, especially as potentially-life changing decisions are on the line.

Staffers are actively working to amend the visitation policy to allow caregivers. However, the hospital has not formally announced when the new plan will go into effect.