Hospital visitor limits mean Caledonia family can’t comfort mom

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Caledonia family is sharing the traumatic toll that one of the state’s executive orders has on families with loved ones in hospitals and other care facilities.

Sunday night, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed executive order 2020-72, renewing visitor restrictions on care facilities to protect vulnerable populations and minimize any potential spread of COVID-19.

“I know this is a difficult time for families, patients and workers across the state, but we must continue to be diligent in our efforts to slow the spread of the virus,” Whitmer said in a press release announcing the renewal of restrictions. “Right now the best we tool we have to save lives is to reduce person-to-person interaction. That is why it is necessary to extend this order and put the health and safety of Michiganders first. I hope everyone in Michigan continues to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19.” 

The previous order, signed in March, was set to expire this week. The new order is in place through the end of May. 

“I just think it’s unfair that for two weeks, she’s been suffering and all by herself, regardless of anything we’ve tried to do,” Levi Dutcher told News 8 through tears Monday afternoon.

His mother Kelly is currently at Mercy Health St. Mary’s in downtown Grand Rapids for complications related to lung cancer. 

Medication had her diagnosis under control until two weeks ago when fluid began building up in her chest.

Kelly’s husband, David, has been the only person allowed to see her since dropping her off at the emergency room on April 20. He wasn’t allowed to go in with her at that time and has only seen her twice since — for a few hours before a surgery on April 22 and again Monday morning after learning she needed another emergency surgery. 

“I was able to talk to her last night and she was just gasping for air,” Levi Dutcher said. “She was begging for somebody to be there with her. I told her I’d do whatever I could to be there.”

Loved ones gathered outside the hospital Sunday afternoon with signs meant to comfort the mother and grandmother. Dutcher posted a photo to Facebook, pleading that the order be loosened to allow immediate family into the hospital.

“If anyone, including the governor, sees this, I just hope that they’ll reconsider the effect this is having on people,” he said. “Maybe we can take the extra steps to have (people) tested and make sure they aren’t sick. There’s got to be a way.”

Mercy Health sent News 8 the following statement Monday afternoon:

“Per the Governor’s executive order, we are unable to allow visitors at this time in order to protect the safety of our patients and colleagues during this unprecedented outbreak. Additional guidance is available at www.MercyHealth.com that lists limited exceptions. In addition, our care team seeks creative ways to help our patients connect with their loved ones virtually, including offering tablets in every unit and assisting patients in using their own mobile devices for video calls.”

The exceptions include allowing for one visitor under circumstances where someone is required for supporting the patient “including activities of daily living”, the visitor has power of attorney or the patient is in serious or critical condition.

Dutcher believes their circumstances meet those exceptions. 

Mercy Health said “the patient’s clinical team would make the decision, based on the EO and guidance” when News 8 asked how decisions are made regarding exceptions.

Dutcher thanked the nurses who have assisted his mom in FaceTiming family when she’s able, recognizing they’re already overworked and have the added burden of worried families requesting regular updates. 

“I think unless you’re going through it, it’s hard to understand,” he added. “My message to anyone who would listen, the governor, representatives, whoever it may be, would be please reconsider. I promised my mom last night that I’d do whatever I could to see her one more time.”

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