Rutland Regional Medical Center has made some changes to its visitor policy based on new direction from the Vermont Department of Health and the effectiveness of the COVID vaccines, according to Dr. Rick Hildebrant, the hospital’s chief medical information officer and director of hospital medicine.

“Up until this point, our restrictions have been, really, the only people that would be permitted into the hospital are obviously patients or anyone who would be required to provide care,” he said.

As an example, Hildebrant said some patients might need a complex dressing after a procedure and the person applying that dressing would be an “essential support person.”

But starting on Monday, the hospital staff began admitting people who were there just to visit or providing emotional support in the hospital or at appointments in outpatient clinics.

Each patient may have one designated visitor, but that person must be fully vaccinated, which would describe them, according to a news release from Rutland Regional, as someone who has received their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks before visiting someone at the hospital.

Visitors must show proof of vaccination with a vaccination card or equivalent.

Fully vaccinated visitors will be allowed at all doctor clinics and outpatient appointments.

All visitors will continue to be screened when entering the hospital and will still be required to wear a mask.

One vaccinated person, if she or he is designated an essential support person may accompany or visit a patient who is a pediatric patient, a patient giving birth, a patient in the emergency department, a patient nearing end of life or patients requiring support as part of their care.

Fully vaccinated members of the clergy may visit without restrictions.

The change, which comes after visitor restrictions that were enacted in November, are expected to be welcomed by many patients.

“Probably the No. 1 request that I’ve had to deal with on the in-patient side for the last year is around visitors because typically, when a loved one goes to the hospital for a medical problem, they have a number of visitors because they have people who care about them and they want to show their support. We haven’t been allowed to do that. We haven’t been able to do that because of safety concerns,” Hildebrant said.

He added the medical staff wanted to get back to allowing visitors because it’s good for the patients to connect with their support system and provides another source of information for the health care providers about their patients.

Also, Central Vermont Medical Center recently announced similar changes to its visitor policy, which took affect on April 2.

“Patient family members are such an important part of the care team,” said Lisa Bovat, Central Vermont Medical Center patient experience manager, in a statement. “We’re thrilled that vaccination is allowing them to reengage in the care and healing process.”

The Vermont hospitals in the UVM Health Network have slightly different policies so area residents are encouraged to visit the Central Vermont Medical Center website before coming.

In a statement, Betsy Hassan, chief nursing officer at Rutland Regional, said the “No. 1 priority” has been the safety of patients and staff.

“Though we are happy to lift some restrictions, we will continue to monitor the virus and our vaccination numbers in our community and we will continue to make adjustments as soon as we can safely do so,” Hassan said.

Hildebrant said RRMC was responding to the changes made through Gov. Phil Scott’s executive orders. He said the reason visitation policies were opening up was that there is so much evidence COVID vaccines are very effective.

“When someone gets the vaccine, the chance of them getting an infection with COVID is so exceedingly small, it’s less than — less than — half a percent,” he said.

Hildebrant said the possibility that a person might need to be safe to visit a relative or friend is just one more reason to get vaccinated.

He acknowledged there had been a “little uptick” recently in COVID cases in the Rutland area that he attributed partially to “COVID fatigue” which can lead to less stringent mask-wearing or social distancing, but added that more than 45% of the population in Rutland County has already gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.

Rutland Regional will continue to facilitate patient communication with friends and family through video conferencing and other means according to a prepared statement released by the hospital.

patrick.mcardle @rutlandherald.com

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