Father of Heart Surgery Patient Questions Northwell Health’s Pandemic Protocols After Both Return Home with COVID-19

A Long Island parent checked in his into Northwell Health’s Cohen Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park, for a serious surgical procedure; what they got, according to the parent, was sent home with COVID-19 and several unanswered questions.
A Long Island parent checked his son into Northwell Health’s Cohen Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park, for a serious surgical procedure; what they got, according to the parent, was sent home with COVID-19 and several unanswered questions. File photo: Lev Radin, Shutter Stock, licensed.

LONG ISLAND, NY – A Suffolk County parent checked in his 16-year-old son into Northwell Health’s Cohen Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park, New York for a serious surgical procedure; what they got, according to the parent, was sent home with COVID-19 and several unanswered questions.

The parent of Northport, New York, whom we will name Mr. Smith, for his and his son’s medical privacy, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and Smith said he felt it was very important to take every precaution possible to maintain his health and the health of his family throughout the pandemic.

Smith’s son had been seen for his pre-surgery prep-admission for a procedure replace a degenerating valve in his heart; the valve in question needing replacement necessitated open-heart surgery, as opposed to a less invasive procedure. Smith had been told that his son would be required to take a COVID-19 test five days prior to the procedure, at which time his son tested negative for the virus.

However, Smith noted that he was given no further instructions, and now questions why his son was not instructed to quarantine after having taken the test, or why the test itself was not done closer to the date of his operation.

“They didn’t tell us to quarantine or anything after the test, which (after the fact) I think is ridiculous,” he said. “I have a friend whose wife works at a hospital in Florida, and she said that they have the patient perform a PCR COVID test two days before surgery, and to quarantine afterward until the day of surgery. In some cases of serious surgical procedures like this, they will admit the patient two days prior, to monitor them prior to surgery. That makes a lot more sense to me.”

“’Explain the point of this COVID test,’ I asked one of the nurses who performed the test,” Smith continued. “I mean, my son could still get COVID within the next five days, so I was curious why they didn’t do the test closer to the surgery. The nurse said ‘yes, you’re right. I don’t understand why they do that, but it’s their policy.’”

Smith said it was important to emphasize that the care his son received in terms of the surgical procedure he had at Cohen Children’s Hospital was second to none; his doctors were friendly and knowledgeable, and his surgery was a complete and total success.  

However, it’s the hospital’s protocols when it came to the COVID-19 pandemic that concerned Smith, especially considering the massive new surge hitting New York state due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

That being the case, when Smith’s son was admitted to the hospital on the date of his surgery, he requested that his son receive a rapid test for COVID; however, the hospital declined to do so.

“Again, the nurse I spoke to said that although that would make sense, again, that wasn’t the hospital’s policy,” he said. “I asked her who made these decisions, and all she told me was that it was above her pay grade, but that it seemed like a good idea”

After his son’s surgery was successful, Smith went up to visit his son in the ICU, and upon learning that the COVID ward was on the same floor, asked why a rapid test wasn’t performed on him before being allowed to visit his son. Again, he was told that was not hospital policy, although he said the nurse once again agreed with him that it should be.

Instead, he was told by hospital staff that visitors were allowed only one single visit; they were welcome to stay as long as they liked – for days at a time if they wished – but due to COVID protocols, once they left, they were not allowed to return again.

“That made no sense to me. Instead of limiting the number of people who can visit a patient in the children’s ICU, or only allowing a parent one visit only, just perform rapid tests each time they come to visit,” he said. “Again, it makes no sense to me the number of issues that could be easily avoided if Cohen would just carry out regular testing of their patients and visitors, but for some reason they don’t do it, and when asked why, they don’t have any answers.”

While Smith’s son was recovering from surgery, his son displayed one minor COVID-related symptom and as a result hospital staff conducted a rapid test upon him. It was confirmed two days after surgery that he was now positive. During his stay, Smith contends that several other patients were infected as well, as he noticed bio-hazard stickers being placed throughout his son’s ward immediately after his positive test. A double mask policy was also instituted for the staff. One parent complained that it was a little too late for that now and COVID already spread throughout the ICU. At one point a parent was so upset to a degree that security had to be called to calm her down. A half dozen security guards were called on the scene. Not only was COVID spreading to her child, she also found out she was not allowed to leave and come back. For a single mom or a parent that has a job, this policy can have devastating repercussions to the child in the ICU. The woman was screaming that she is fully vaccinated and there was no need for her to be banned from the ICU if she left.

Smith’s son remained in the hospital, recovering both from his heart surgery and COVID-19, but before his son was discharged, Smith inquired if either he or his son were going to be tested for COVID to ensure they weren’t bringing the disease home to the rest of their family. However, Smith said that he was told the hospital would not do that, leaving the two wondering about their health and what they were conceivably bringing home with them. Smith requested a COVID test many times throughout the four day stay, but was denied. He even went as far as to offer to purchase the test from the hospital’s pharmacy, but again was told that it was against their policies; the lack of any stringent testing protocols and lack of warning of a potential COVID lock down raised red flags for him, he said.

“I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give me a test. Wouldn’t they want to know if I had caught COVID there, or if I were bringing home COVID to my family?” he said. “I was told, ‘yeah, that’s probably a good thing to know, but again this is beyond my pay grade.’ I mean, I was walking around the ward wearing a tiny mask and nothing else, and I wanted to be sure, but they had no idea if I had COVID or not and they wouldn’t test me to find out. I explained I can not leave and get tested because I can not come back. I am in a hospital and you can not test me? They said you would have to enter the emergency room downstairs and get tested there. They said, However if you leave the ICU you can not return.”

You can understand the frustration, Smith noted that he takes exception with the COVID protocols in place at Cohen Children’s Hospital and is fearful that a perceived lack of foresight on Northwell Health’s part could lead to an unnecessary loss of life down the road.

“I feel like the system they have in place is unacceptable and will only lead to mass infections,” he said. “I’ve talked to other medical professionals who feel a rapid test right before admittance would be ideal, followed by another rapid test when the patient is discharged to make sure they aren’t leaving the hospital sicker than when they were admitted. I’m going home to a pregnant wife and another small infant; Doesn’t it matter if I’m leaving COVID-positive? And why aren’t visitors to the children’s ICU rapid tested when they come and go? The way they’re doing things now, it’s going to eventually cost someone their life if it hasn’t already. The hospital needs to implement regular on-site testing instead of leaving it solely up to their patients.”

In response to Smith’s claims, Miriam Sholder, Northwell Health’s Public Relations Adviser for their Eastern Region, stated that the organization adheres to all established COVID-19 guidelines as laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The patient’s full name was provided to Northwell so the hospital could verify Smith’s son was in fact treated prior to Northwell giving comment to the Published Reporter regarding the experience.

“The safety of our patients is always our top priority, and while we cannot comment specifically on this case due to patient confidentiality, our protocols adhere to CDC guidelines,” she said. “Given the current rise in COVID-19 infections throughout the region, we remain vigilant and evaluate our infection control practices on a daily basis.”

Again, Smith lauded Cohen Children’s Hospital for their surgical expertise when it came to addressing his son’s heart condition but implored them to adopt more stringent COVID protocols to safeguard the lives they are entrusted with protecting.

“The main reason I want this story out is I want them [Northwell] to change their procedures” he said. “They’re just so inadequate, and the policies are so ridiculous. It makes absolutely no sense why a person visiting can not get tested, why a parent can not leave and come back if tested negative, and why patients are not tested right before a major surgery. It only costs a few dollars to give a rapid test and I was willing to pay for it. I can buy one at a local CVS and can not get one while in a top well known hospital? Keep in mind, they exposed me to COVID and what’s going to happen is that some sick patient will eventually die from a visitor who spread COVID to sick kids. They are allowed to enter the hospital (ICU) without a quick rapid test as an extra safety precaution, does that make sense?  I’m very lucky that my son was already vaccinated, because a lot of 16-year-olds aren’t, if not, we might be telling a different kind of story today”

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