Protestors push for visitor allowances at Providence Alaska Medical Center

The hospital decided in March to restrict visitation
Published: Sep. 14, 2020 at 12:01 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Families pushing for visitor allowances at Providence Alaska Medical Center gathered for a peaceful demonstration Sunday as a Kodiak man remains camped out in protest of visitor restrictions.

Marvin Abbott, whose daughter was last known to be in critical condition inside the hospital, has been camping outside the building since Thursday as he tries to convince officials to let him in to see his child. On Sunday afternoon, he was joined by dozens of people protesting the rules and trying to send the same message. They all believe people should be allowed in to see their loved ones who are being taken care of by Providence staff inside the intensive care unit.

“It’s overwhelming,” Abbott said of the support he’s received. “I break down sometimes, thinking about it.”

[RELATED: Father to camp outside hospital]

Like Abbott, Corie and Megan Richards are missing someone, too: Corie’s husband, who is Megan’s father, is also currently in the ICU.

“They were goat hunting,” Corie Richards said. “They were on a cliff. Somehow, he lost his footing and fell 100 feet.

“There has to be a compromise,” she continued. “It can’t be all or nothing.”

Like the Richards family, Abbott feels his physical presence in his daughter’s room would help her.

“I was told I need to connect with my daughter spiritually; she needs to hear my voice," Abbott said. "That person was right.

“So last night, I FaceTimed her,” he said, getting emotional. “And it was, it was very difficult.”

At Providence, visitors are generally not allowed, with few exceptions to that rule, and Abbott and the Richards family have so far not been able to go in to see their loved ones. Those with visitation allowances include but are not limited to patients in the children’s hospital, including the NICU, who may have two parents around; maternity patients, who may have one support of their choosing by their side; and end of life patients, who are allowed one visitor at a time.

[RELATED: Woman fights to visit husband in ICU, despite COVID-19 restrictions]

A group in opposition to the limits placed on visitors at the beginning of the pandemic joined in protest for the afternoon, but Abbott is taking it a big step further: As of Sunday, he was on his fourth day of camping out, with overnight temperatures sometimes dipping in the 20′s and rougher weather projected for the week ahead.

“It’s not right,” Abbott said. “I’ve had so many people come up and say they’re in the same situation. I didn’t know this when I came, you know?”

The gathering follows at least several other instances last of people speaking out against Providence’s restrictions. Last week, Lisa Butler - whose husband Kyle has been in ICU since an ATV crash in early September - said it was “heartbreaking” not being able to see her husband and the father of her kids.

“Somebody somewhere has the power to make an exception,” she had said. “Somebody has the power to change the policies, so not only me, but other families can get in there to see their loved ones and follow certain safety protocols.”

The hospital said it reevaluates visitor policies on a regular basis, but safety is the priority.

In the meantime, with his daughter still in ICU, Abbott is out in the cold for now, but still full of hope.

“I just know that if I was there,” Abbott said, “I just feel in my heart that it would make a difference. They can hear you. And they can feel you.”

Providence sent a prepared statement Sunday that said in part, “Intensive Care Units are places of care for the most vulnerable patients in a hospital. This is even more so since the onset of COVID-19.... One COVID-19 exposure within an intensive care unit could have deadly ramifications to other patients and our staff.

“We understand and empathize with families who are distressed that they are unable to be with their loved ones in the hospital,” the statement continued. “Visitor restrictions are difficult choices for us to make as a mission-driven organization that places a high value on compassion. However, we must place the safety of our patients and caregivers first when the risks are so great during this unusual time.”

Policies at Alaska Regional and the Alaska Native Medical Center are also restrictive of visitors at this time.

Video shot by photojournalist Phil Walczak. Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.