Unmasked visitors putting hospitals at risk

15 July 2022

There are concerns hospital visitors taking their masks off within Taranaki Base and Hāwera hospitals are increasing the risk of infecting patients with COVID-19.

Our patients are some of the most vulnerable and we have now had a third episode of patients within our Older Peoples Health and Rehabilitation ward contracting COVID-19 while inpatients, says Dr Greg Simmons, Te Whatu Ora Taranaki chief medical advisor.

“We would like to remind everyone that masks must be warn within healthcare settings including our hospitals,” says Dr Simmons.

“From today, we are going to maintain a strict no mask no access hospital policy.”

Under the Ministry of Health Orange Traffic Light settings, visitors to hospitals and health care facilities are required to wear masks to keep recovering patients and healthcare staff safe from bringing respiratory viruses into hospitals.

“Our team has a high level of suspicion that COVID-19 had previously been introduced by a visitor to hospital by taking their mask off when visiting a patient,” says Dr Simmons.

“On a daily basis, our frontline security staff are encountering visitors wanting to flaunt the mask-wearing regulations and becoming abusive when asked to wear a mask. They then enter the hospital with a mask to comply and take off their masks as they enter the wards and visit patients which is putting our patients and staff at serious risk of contracting viruses such as COVID -19 and influenza.”

“The result is that we will enforce our no mask no entry policy unless visitors have proof of a legitimate mask exemption. However, anyone who is unwell will not be able to enter as part of our infection control measures.”

Healthcare security operations manager for Te Whatu Ora Taranaki, Matt Green, confirms that if visitors remove their masks while visiting patients, they will be asked by ward staff to put their masks back on.

“If the visitor refuses to put their mask back on, ward staff will call security and security and we will be asking them to leave the hospital,” states Green.

With rapidly increasing numbers of COVID-19 and influenza cases in the Taranaki community, Taranaki Base and Hāwera hospitals have also introduced a restricted visitor policy.

The policy means there is only one visitor per patient at a time, no visitors under 16 years of age unless with a prior appointment, and no admittance of visitors if they are unwell, says Simmons.

“There will be exceptions on compassionate grounds on a case-by- case basis for Maternity and the Children’s Ward for example where parents and support people may be required,” explains Simmons. “We will also take into consideration support for palliative patients, and ward managers and or lead clinicians may approve other exceptions based on other compassionate grounds.”

The visitor restrictions are due to steadily rising COVID-19, influenza and RSV transmission as well as gastroenteritis cases in the community.

“The Taranaki community can play a key role in easing the pressure on the region’s hospitals by getting vaccinated, getting a RAT test if symptoms appear and staying home if you feel unwell. The other mainstays of preventing the spread of respiratory infection by good personal hygiene such as regular hand washing, using alcohol-based hand gels, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, wearing masks where necessary and social distancing, cannot be overstated,” says Simmons.

Security guards Sam Chauhan, Matt Green and Liz Shepherd
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