BOSTON, Mass. – Nurses from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, are sounding the alarm about their hospital’s visitor policy amid a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant. Unlike other Boston-area hospitals, the Brigham has not imposed additional visitor restrictions during the current surge and is not adequately enforcing personal protective equipment requirements for visitors.
“The Brigham’s lax visitor policy during the Omicron surge is putting patients and nurses at higher risk for infection, especially in maternity units where patients and staff are in close contact with support people for extended periods of time,” said Kelly Morgan, a labor and delivery nurse at the Brigham and Vice Chair of the MNA Bargaining Committee. “The hospital is allowing up to two support people in to be with each COVID positive patient. With so many caregivers out with COVID, we would hope hospital executives would step up their efforts to protect us.”
Brigham nurses have been urging the hospital to improve its response to the current COVID surge, but management is not listening. The hospital can do much better in protecting patients and staff from infection. When nurses look at the lax visitor policy, PPE issues and lack of booster and testing availability, they see the Brigham as practically an ongoing super spreader event.
Hundreds of Brigham Nurses, Staff COVID Positive
- Week of January 4 – 459 total employees/156 were nurses
- Week of January 11 – 693 total employees/190 were nurses
Other Hospitals Restrict Visitors Amid Surge
Effective Jan. 11, 2022, Beth Israel Lahey Health restricted visitors. “At Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, we understand that being able to visit your loved ones is important,” the hospital system wrote in a statement. “However, to keep our patients and staff safe, effective Jan. 11, 2022, we are not allowing visitors at this time. Thank you for your patience as we adjust and continue to adhere to guidance from infection prevention experts during the COVID-19 pandemic. The safety of our patients, colleagues and visitors is our top priority.”
St. Elizabeth Medical Center restricted visitors as of December 15, 2021: “To best ensure the health and safety of our patients and staff, visitor restrictions are currently in place,” the hospital said. “Visitation will be restricted until further notice unless an exception has been granted. We encourage family members and friends to use alternative ways to interact with their loved ones, including phone calls, Facetime and Skype.”
Boston Medical Center has a very limited visitor policy, effective January 5, 2022.
Tufts Medical Center and South Shore Hospital are allowing a maximum of one visitor per patient, unlike the two allowed at BWH.
COVID Protection Issues Identified by Nurses at BWH
- Visitor Policy. Positive visitors are coming into the hospital, putting everyone at heightened risk for exposure, especially when the hospital does not enforce PPE requirements. Also, people who visit COVID positive patients are clearly in close contact and yet they are allowed to make repeat visits. Nurses have urged the hospital to temporarily halt visitors, except for limited exceptions.
- Booster access. The hospital must make it easier for staff to receive boosters on site, as hospitals such as Tufts are doing. Nurses have encouraged the hospital to bring back retirees as they did previously to administer shots.
- Testing Availability. Nurses are having to wait several days for asymptomatic and symptomatic testing. This is negatively impacting the Brigham’s staffing crisis and the lives of nurses and other staff.
- PPE Issues. Nurses have questioned the hospital’s extended use of N95 policy, in which nurses do not automatically change out their N95s between patients. If nurses are not properly protected, it creates greater risk for patients, for our colleagues and families. Nurses have reminded the hospital they need to provide fit testing and additional education about the types of N95s in use.
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.