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The difference between a visitor and a support person

The distinction continues to confound, so here are the details, along with an upcoming change to the visitation procedure.

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A loved one is in the hospital and their friends and families are told they cannot visit. For caregivers, this is wrenching because we know families are an integral part of the care we give. Nonetheless, federal, state and local governments have put in place guidelines to help keep patients and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Asante has abided by them.

While our visitor process has changed over the past 20 months, many of the key tenets remain the same. Here are some definitions, reminders and upcoming changes.

Visitor: A person coming to see a patient within the hospital setting (including inpatient and outpatient services).

Support person: A family member, guardian, personal care assistant or other paid or unpaid attendant selected by a patient with a disability to physically or emotionally assist the patient or ensure effective communication with the patient, as defined by state law and related regulations.

On the surface, a visitor and support person may look the same, however these are two separate and distinct roles. First, not all patients qualify for a support person. The patient must have a disability that makes it difficult to communicate, make health care decisions, understand health care information or engage in activities of daily life. Examples of a qualifying disability include blindness, deafness, autism and dementia.

Second, a patient who qualifies for a support person has the legal right to have that support person present during the hospital stay. Hospitals generally are prohibited from restricting a patient’s right to a support person. Patients do not have the same protected rights when it comes to visitors, and visitors may be limited according to hospital policy.

Asante’s current policy for visitors and support persons 
  1. No visitors under age 18.
  2. No visitors are permitted in hospital inpatient and outpatient departments except for:
    1. One visitor in ED.
    2. Up to two guardians in pediatric units.
    3. Up to two visitors in labor delivery and maternal/child units.
    4. Up to two visitors for patients at end of life.
  3. Support persons designated by state law are allowed.
Changes coming

Because of the current restrictions, the visitor order will be removed from Epic on Nov. 9. Support persons for patients with a physical or emotional disability, however, should be documented in the patient record. See the tip sheet »

We recognize that end-of-life situations may seem unclear. Please use your best judgment and your chain of command to support the patient and family in these circumstances.

Our visitor process may change again as we navigate this pandemic. Keep alert to changes and thank you for all you are doing to keep our patients safe and supported.

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If you need answers for a personal work matter, please contact the author or department directly instead of leaving a comment.

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