ThedaCare Enacts Prison-like Solitary Sentences On Patients To Hide Staffing Shortages

by Skyla Beranich

ThedaCare Enacts Prison-like Solitary Sentences On Patients To Hide Staffing Shortages


1/29/2022

ThedaCare has now implemented a new standard in visitor policy and unfortunately it's not positive for the mental health of its patients.

On January 27th, 2022, around 4 pm an email went out to hospital personnel to inform staff of a new policy which severely restricts visitors to all patients, an anonymous source informed me. How did I come upon this information? I have a family member in ThedaCare hospital in Neenah, Wisconsin and was there visiting when a member of the hospital staff came to inform me of the new policy. 


“I just wanted to let you know about our new visitor policy which went into effect today. There will be no more visitors in the hospital waiting room, and whether or not you can visit in the patient’s room will be on a case by case basis.” The anonymous source stated. “You’ll have to call the hospital tomorrow to find out if you’re eligible to visit.” 


ThedaCare sites Covid19 as the reason for the new policy, but it is no secret the hospital has been having issues with staffing. ThedaCare recently pursued legal action against staff who had been leaving in order to attempt to retain them as staff. Most of the staff leaving were “at-will” employees who had turned their resignation with two weeks notice, to allow time for their replacements to be found. 


This is a standard time-frame most moral people give upon leaving their place of employment, but is not actually required for employees who are “at-will”. In Wisconsin, the term “at-will employee” means the relationship between employer and employee can be terminated at any time, for any reason, with no notice. 


When a judge threw out the lawsuit against the staff, ThedaCare turned to pursuing a lawsuit against Ascension Wisconsin, the hospitals that their staff members had been going to. This lawsuit was dropped as of 1/28/2022, most likely due to the pressure of the community and media bearing on them over it, although ThedaCare President and CEO Imran Andrabi claims the lawsuit was dropped to focus on hiring new staff. If that was the case, why didn’t they focus on hiring new staff in the first place when they were given notices instead of pursuing legal action against over-worked nurses?


“If you don’t want to lose employees, be a better employer,” said a family member of a patient in conversation with them.


Their website has the following information regarding what will or will not be allowed: 


  • No visitors for COVID patients, except limited, approved, pre-arranged visitation for end of life.
  • Non-COVID patients may have one visitor during normal visiting hours. Visitors must remain masked at all times, and stay in the patient’s room.
  • One parent/guardian allowed to accompany:
  1. Minor
  2. Patient with medical need (intellectual and/or developmental disability or cognitive impairment).
  • Patients presenting for outpatient care in a hospital or clinic setting are allowed to enter with their minor children, if no alternative. Children must be wearing a mask at all times.
  • The new policy is effective at hospitals in Appleton, Berlin, Neenah, New London, Shawano, Waupaca and Wild Rose, Wisconsin. 


    For anyone with family in a serious condition, this is not good news. When I went to question staff members further to find out if my family member is among those patients eligible for visitors, I was told, “We just got the email regarding the new policy. We don’t have any idea what is going on, and hopefully by tomorrow morning they’ll figure out which patients can have visitors.” 


    Imran Andrabi said, “Every patient that ends up in the ICU, every death that happens, we have to think about, ‘could that have been prevented from happening in the first place’.” 


    Now, their policy may sound like it has enough loopholes in it that serious condition patients would be allowed company. However, I know from experience this is not the case. My family member is in such a serious condition, he’s barely able to push a call button for help. Having family at his side is not just good for his mental health, it’s helpful to have someone able to get help when he needs it. This new policy opens the door for potential negligence, and even creates a funnel toward possible maltreatment as overworked, understaffed nurses deal with everything.


    I’ve confirmed with hospital staff that the enforcement of this policy is not negotiable and whether or not patients can have visitors is being put upon nursing leads. This is an added stress as nursing staff now have to field endless calls informing family members and dealing with the rash of anger that follows. 


    The ones who feel the effects of this new policy the most are the patients. There have been numerous studies of the effects on solitary confinement on health in prison inmates. Yes, you read that right. Solitary confinement is defined by being in a small space with little or no interaction from other humans. In prison, there are no tvs, of course, but do policy makers think a television is an acceptable replacement for human interaction?


    A man is fighting for his life against a force of nature that wants to devour him. He has an aggressive cancer forming lesions in his body. He spent weeks growing weaker, losing weight, in pain, barely able to drink water until finally he succumbed to unconsciousness and had to be put on a feeding tube. His family was in the midst of having to discuss hospice care and after death matters when he improved enough to wake up and pull out his own feeding tube. He wants to live. Having a member of his family by his side would easily be the most helpful to him. 


    Charles Dickens (yep, that one…) described solitary at the Philadelphia Penitentiary during his trip to America as, "slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body".


    Studies have shown the effects of solitary on the body and mind include: 

    •     anxiety and stress
    •     depression and hopelessness
    •     anger, irritability, and hostility
    •     panic attacks
    •     worsened preexisting mental health issues
    •     hypersensitivity to sounds and smells
    •     problems with attention, concentration, and memory
    •     hallucinations that affect all of the senses
    •     paranoia
    •     poor impulse control
    •     social withdrawal
    •     outbursts of violence
    •     psychosis
    •     fear of death
    •     self-harm or suicide
    •     chronic headaches
    •     eyesight deterioration
    •     digestive problems
    •     dizziness
    •     excessive sweating
    •     fatigue and lethargy
    •     genitourinary problems
    •     heart palpitations
    •     hypersensitivity to light and noise
    •     loss of appetite
    •     muscle and joint pain
    •     sleep problems
    •     trembling hands
    •     weight loss

    Humans absolutely need social contact and I don’t mean just a thirty minute pep talk over the phone or the occasional nurse wiping their butt after a bowel movement or drawing blood for a test. Nurses are absolutely at work to work. Considering them as replacement for the necessary human interaction is clearly something policy makers are doing, but that’s not in the job description. Their job is to be a healthcare provider, not a friend, and they can’t sit by the person’s side for eight hours. 


    Putting patients who need positivity into a situation which involves policy defined solitude leads to a rise in feelings of loneliness which in turn leads to an increase in suicidal ideation. 


    ThedaCare does not care about their patients. They don’t care about their workers either. They’ve created an environment which makes it far harder on their workers than is necessary. I can understand placing limits on visitation due to Covid19. But this is absolutely going overboard. Not only does having at least one family member present help aide in the recovery of a family member, but it can take strain off healthcare workers even just a little bit. 


    A healthcare worker stated on assurance of anonymity that, “It’s actually better for patients to have someone there. When patients have trouble drinking or need a glass of water or a blanket, you can be there to do that. We already have more work than we can handle, and a lot of times patients won’t or can’t ask. That’s where negligence ends up happening. It’s not just good for a patient's mind to have someone there. It can be good for them physically.” 


    The practice of solitary confinement in prisons has been under criticism for years. The U.N. “Mandela Rules” provides guidance on the treatment of incarcerated people, up to including prohibiting isolation for people with disabilities. Now, if you were stuck in a hospital bed for more than twenty hours a day and you absolutely needed to be strong enough to walk in order to start your cancer treatment, having someone there to pep talk you for several hours a day and help relieve your feelings of loneliness becomes something you can look forward to. 


    My father-in-law’s physical health has confined him to a bed. He can’t move without a struggle, but he absolutely needs to in order to regain his strength. Now the hospital has done this to him. Our family was a shoulder he could lean on as he recovers. The hospital has kicked that crutch out from under him. 


    What will they think of next?