Contra Costa Regional Medical Center (CCRMC) is a county hospital, and we hear repeatedly from those we serve (patients and their families) that they are surprised by the excellent and compassionate care they receive here. Often, that high-quality care is the result of applying best practices and lessons learned as we go.

About a year ago, a young boy wasn’t allowed to be in our ICU with his grandfather, who had raised him, because it was after visiting hours. The grandfather passed away and the two lost the chance to say goodbye.

That incident really hit home for me and our entire staff. We knew we could do better – for our patients and their families.

Shift in Thinking

Our old policies treated family members like visitors, until we realized that we are the visitors in people’s lives, not the other way around. This was a huge cultural shift, and one that the staff here was courageous enough, bold enough and caring enough to undertake.

This experience was one of the reasons we implemented a “welcoming” policy at the end of 2013, eliminating restrictive visiting policies and the whole concept of “visitors” at CCRMC.

Since then, we’ve had more than 7,000 people come after hours to be with their loved ones. Tracking the data is an important part of assessing success and we’re gathering input and feedback from staff and patients and their families.

What is a ‘Welcoming’ Policy?

We’ve learned that simply being open 24/7 isn’t enough. There is a difference between a 24/7-visitation policy and a welcoming policy. We as hospitals need to be truly welcoming places where families and loved ones are recognized and included as essential to patient care.

It’s also not up to us to define family – patients have that right and we are proud to also be recognized as a “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality” by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

We know family and loved-one presence supports safe and high-quality care. You can read more about this from the Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care (IPFCC), a nonprofit promoting the importance of this movement.

In Awe of Our Success

To make this work at CCRMC, it was important to sit down with staff and listen to their concerns about changing visiting policies. We brought together everyone who was involved, doctors, nurses, security personnel, receptionists and other staff, as well as patients and their families and loved ones, to lead the effort.

While our policy welcomes families 24/7, that doesn’t mean there aren’t boundaries. We always consider safety and our patients’ preferences in every situation, but now having a family member or loved one by the bedside is the norm. It’s part of our culture of excellence. And if that’s what “public” means, we wear that badge proudly.

I am once again humbled and in awe of what we as “public hospitals” do. This success is an excellent tribute to all the staff – here at CCRMC and Health Centers, Contra Costa Health Services, and the Sheriff’s Office – who together made possible this shift in culture to reflect our commitment to working with patients and family partners to provide the care that those we serve want and deserve.