Families line up to visit loved ones in hospitals, nursing homes

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Walter O’Neill snapped photos of a line of visitors queued up to see patients at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. His 84-year-old mom, Judith, had successful heart surgery at the hospital a couple days ago. O’Neill went to see her on the first day New Jersey hospitals resumed patient visits after the COVID surge. It was a reality check.

“Realizing the seriousness of the situation when everybody has to be masked, temperature checked, but I was happy they were doing it because it protects everyone,” he said.

Hospital executive Dr. Ken Sable explained that family support helps patients heal.

“I think it’s been really challenging over these past few months, particularly for caregivers and patients to not have the ability to have their loved ones there for them,” he said.

But medical staff will strictly enforce regulations requiring masks, temperature scans and social distancing. While New Jersey hospitals survived the first pandemic surge that almost overwhelmed the health care system, they’re acutely aware that the virus remains a real threat.

“As the state and other states start to open, we’re really concerned about the lack of social distancing or people wearing masks, and potentially infection starting to bump back up,” Sable said.

University Hospital’s Dr. Shareef Elnahal says visitors running a temperature get sent home and patients can only see one visitor at a time, with exceptions only for pediatric or hospice patients. People must make appointments to see COVID-positive patients.

“Anybody who’s visiting them would need to wear the full personal protective equipment that any hospital person would have to wear as they enter and exit that room,” Elnahal said. “All these reopening moves are never going to go back to the way things used to be. They have to be a new normal that makes sure that folks are protected.”

Meanwhile, families have also been visiting nursing home residents since Father’s Day with similar restrictions.

Tom Semiz’s appointment to see his 86-year-old dad at the beleaguered Andover Subacute got rescheduled.

“They couldn’t get the place ready in time with all the mandates that they put in place and I had to wait, so we couldn’t go for Father’s Day,” he said.

Finally, after months of no contact and watching the virus burn through Andover and other long-term care facilities, Semiz visited his dad Monday. They sat outside.

“You sat at a 6 foot table, at each end of the table, so you couldn’t even shake his hand or hug him so that was hard,” Semiz said. “You know, he’s my dad and I love him. He’s lonely now. He’s by himself.”

Semiz wants to take his dad, who has dementia, home for visits soon, but that’s problematic.

Meanwhile, Judith O’Neill’s hopefully heading home Thursday after a lovely visit with her son.

Typical families trying to support each other through very atypical times