NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Should dying COVID patients be able to receive in-person visitation? A new Tennessee law forces hospitals to change their visitor guidelines and allow end-of-life COVID visitations.
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The safety concern, however, is the family member would be directly exposed to a COVID-positive patient, and in the worst-case scenario, the visitor could end up in a hospital bed themselves.
The new changes come to Tennessee thanks to a far-reaching omnibus COVID restrictions bill.
“We’ve got real problems here in Tennessee, like, we’re at the bottom when it comes to funding our public schools. We’ve got health crisis that needs attention. For example, we could expand Medicaid to help push back against medical bankruptcies and hospital closures, but instead of tackling real issues like that, they get together to play politics with COVID,” ICU doctor Jason Martin said.
Dr. Martin, who has been on the frontlines of the pandemic and is often a communication buffer holding an iPad between families and dying COVID patients, says the separation takes a toll on families.
“End-of-life care in an ICU with COVID is terrible, often patients are isolated from their families and it’s a life-changing experience to observe that kind of death,” Dr. Martin said.
Despite some initial concerns, Governor Bill Lee signed the bill forcing hospitals to allow families to be at the side of COVID patients taking a downward turn.
Dr. Martin, who is running in the Democratic primary for governor, says the goal is for everyone to prevent possible COVID hospitalizations, and politicians should not stand in the way of public health.
“It’s political in nature, it’s not related to medical data — it’s not really public health, they’re just trying to score political points with their base,” he said.
Dr. Martin says the goal should be to avoid the hospital altogether.
“This is a largely vaccine-preventable disease at this point — not to say that they aren’t any breakthrough cases — but typically when breakthroughs cases occur they’re less severe and much less likely to land you with a life-threatening illness,” Martin said.
The pandemic is not over yet. Experts are warning of another possible surge in the weeks ahead.
As of Monday, Tennessee had over 600 positive cases of COVID-19 in hospitals, with over 200 in the ICU.