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MedStar eases COVID-19 restrictions amidst disability health care concerns 

March 17, 2021


Illustration by Deborah Han

MedStar, a not-for-profit healthcare organization that runs 10 hospitals and manages nearly 30,000 associates and 6,000 affiliated physicians, has relaxed its visitor restrictions at care locations across D.C. even as the District’s COVID-19 cases continue to grow. The MedStar Health network includes the teaching hospital on Georgetown’s main campus.

The altered visitor policy comes amidst new protocols to support disabled patients hospitalized during the pandemic.

The modified policy allows visitors and support persons for patients with disabilities, who follow COVID-19 guidelines, to enter hospitals as of Dec. 23. The hospitals have also expanded their compassionate care treatment visitor policy as well, granting two visitors per patient at end of life, one visitor per patient undergoing emergency or unplanned surgery, and one visitor if indicated by the patient’s provider to support patient rehabilitation needs, among other selectively restrictive policies.

The policy was adjusted in part as a response to criticism from several patients about accommodations for disabled persons. The Office for Civil Rights received three complaints that MedStar’s temporary visitor policy did not distinguish between visitors and support persons, resulting in disabled persons being denied effective communication with their treatment teams, denying them the ability to give informed consent, and subjecting them to unnecessary physical and pharmacological restraints.

The update comes as D.C.’s daily case rate continues to grow, with cases rising by nearly 16 percent even as hospitalizations have dropped 15 percent over a 14-day change as of March 4. The death toll in the District also reached 1,000 cases the week of Feb. 24. Included in that count is Mayor Muriel Bowser’s sister Mercia, who passed away on Feb. 24 due to complications related to COVID-19, according to a statement released by the mayor’s office. The Black community accounted for nearly 750 of the 1,000 deaths, despite representing only 46 percent of the city’s population.

The university has partnered with MedStar Health in the new vaccination rollout by recruiting volunteers to administer Johnson & Johnson vaccines and coordinating vaccine sites. The collaboration follows as Ranit Mishori, a professor of family medicine and the Interim Chief Public Health Officer, announced Georgetown’s support of all three F.D.A. approved vaccines and the high-capacity vaccination sites in Ward 8 for eligible D.C. residents.

Bowser declared Feb. 24 a “day of remembrance for lives lost to COVID-19” to commemorate the 1,000 D.C. residents who have passed away from the virus.



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