Fact check: Are coronavirus patients dying alone in hospitals?
The claim: Coronavirus patients are dying alone in hospitals
As the number of globally confirmed cases of the coronavirus climbs, hospitals scramble to accommodate patients while ensuring the health and safety of staff.
One Facebook post urged people to think before they leave the house about the patients who are dying alone in hospitals. The post was shared about 7,900 times since March 31.
Though regulations vary by hospital and by state, to prevent more community spread, hospitals in all 50 states, and across the world, bar visitors.
There is no sweeping regulation that prohibits visitors, but many hospitals implemented a no-visitor policy.
For example, MedStar Health, in the Washington area, released guidelines for all of its hospitals that went into effect April 3, stating no visitors are permitted at any hospital location. Any exceptions are subject to high-level approval. The University of Chicago Medical Center implemented a visitor restriction policy that gives a one-visitor exception for labor and delivery.
Most hospitals that implemented these restrictions make exceptions only for patients receiving end-of-life care, hospitalized children and women in labor.
It is unknown what factors are taken into consideration when determining visitor allowance, especially if the patient has been infected with the coronavirus. Hospitals evaluate each visitation request on a case-by-case basis.
Northwell Health in New York required its hospitals to suspend all visitation unless there is an extraordinary circumstance. The hospital system provided for some exceptions that require a visitor has not been exposed to COVID-19.
Under such policies across the country, implementation of visitor restrictions falls typically to individual hospitals, but those decisions could be overruled if state or federal government steps in.
The New York-Presbyterian hospital system barred all visitors after discovering multiple patients in its labor and delivery units had the coronavirus, despite showing minimal or no symptoms. After this move, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order requiring all medical facilities licensed by the state to allow one visitor for patients in labor.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a hospital preparedness checklist to help prepare hospitals for the event of a community outbreak. It includes several suggestions on visitation and communicating hospital policies on visitation rules.
Limits on visitors have taken an emotional toll on health care workers as well as the families of patients who have died alone. These deaths in isolation prompted health care workers and officials to question when patients can have visitors or whether it should be allowed at all.
Our ruling: True
The post claiming coronavirus patients are dying alone is generally TRUE because it is supported by our research. Though there is not a sweeping, national regulation barring all visitors from all facilities across the country, many hospitals have implemented no-visitor policies or minimal visitor interaction policies, and some states, including New York, have imposed limits on visitation as well.
Exceptions to these policies and limitations generally have been made for patients receiving end-of-life care, hospitalized children and women in labor. Sincerequests for visitation are generally evaluated on a case-by-case basis by each hospital, the factors taken into consideration are inconsistent and unknown.
Our fact-check sources:
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Hospitals: CMS Flexibilities to Fight COVID-19
- University of Chicago Medicine, Visitor Policy Changes at UChicago Medicine for COVID-19
- Northwell Health, Updated hospital visitor policy
- The New York Times, "Women Will Not Be Forced to Be Alone When They Are Giving Birth"
- The New York Times, "Italy’s Coronavirus Victims Face Death Alone, With Funerals Postponed"
- CDC, Comprehensive Hospital Preparedness Checklist for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- New York Dept. of Health, Health Advisory: COVID-19 Guidance for Hospital Operators Regarding Visitation Updated Guidance regarding Obstetrical and Pediatric Settings
- The New York Times, "Nurses Die, Doctors Fall Sick and Panic Rises on Virus Front Lines"
- People are dying alone because of the coronavirus. This journalist told the story of a nurse trying to help families stay connected.
- MedStar Health visitor policies
- The New York Times, " 'A Heart-Wrenching Thing': Hospital Bans on Visits Devastate Families"