Family advocates for change to hospital visit policies

Published: Apr. 29, 2020 at 4:59 PM CDT
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Sunday was just another normal day for the Stirmel family.

"Our son Zach was over at his older brother's house roofing all day with his middle brother helping out,” Said Janet Stirmel

But then Janet’s son Zach left on his motorcycle to go home around 8 p.m.

"According to the eye witness, the oncoming car, the deer just jumped out and landed right in front of his motorcycle,” Janet said.

Zach crashed his motorcycle along County Road D, in the Town of Ludington.

He was airlifted to Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire and remains in critical condition.

However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, hospitals like Mayo have had to limit the contact patients can now receive.

Their current visitor policy in place amid the pandemic states no visitors are allowed, but one visitor is allowed for end-of-life patients, the birth of a child, and pediatric patients.

"None of us have been allowed to see him in person,” Janet said. “The hospital has been doing as best they can as far as getting us updates."

And Tuesday night Janet says they got to see their son over a video call for the first time since Sunday.

"Last night his wonderful nurses set up a Zoom call with us so we could see him for the first time since the accident,” she said. “He couldn't respond but we know that he heard us."

Yet, despite the accommodations, the Stirmels have now become advocates for change.

"Everyone wants to see their loved one but as a dad, I'm ok as long as his mom or wife can switch out, whatever, but someone should be with him, he does not deserve to be alone,” said Zach’s father, John.

"It is the hardest thing ever to not be able to be there and that he is going through it alone," Said Zach’s wife Mariah

Mayo Clinic Health System declined an interview, but released a statement saying in part, "the ongoing safety of our patients, staff and communities remains our primary focus."

The Stirmels say they understand why the policies are in place, but now hope they can be eased for patients like Zach and mothers like Janet.

"It is not just about Zach, it is about everybody going through this because we know we're not the only family going through this and no one should have to go through this,” Janet said. "Nobody deserves to be alone."

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Stirmels say a social worker with the hospital is working to find a way to help the family visit their son in person.