MercyOne Newton Medical Center has established a new policy to better protect the privacy and safety of their patients. Effective May 20, the hospital will no longer permit recreational walking in their facility.
“We absolutely appreciate our community members prioritizing their health and wellness,” Laurie Conner, hospital president, said. “However, we do not have an officially sanctioned or structured ‘walking program’ in place, nor have we in the past.”
In recent months, the hospital has seen a significant uptick in the number of people using the hallways to walk laps, something which has been identified as having the potential to compromise patient confidentiality.
“All health care entities must abide by regulatory requirements to ensure patients’ privacy is maintained,” said Amber Wentz, whose duties include serving as MercyOne Newton’s compliance officer. “While we encourage healthy lifestyles, our patients come first. We need to respond to their concerns and ensure we are providing a safe, secure place for them to seek health care.”
An increasing number of patients have been requesting alternative routes or exits in the hospital to avoid being seen by walkers with whom they are acquainted. In addition, MercyOne Newton has had to invest in frosted windows in key areas to ensure privacy for patients and guests in waiting areas.
“Community members are often on site all hours of the day, with morning walkers arriving as early at 5 a.m. and evening walkers staying as late as 10 p.m.,” said Heather Wolf, Manager of Human Resources and Support Services at MercyOne Newton. “Walkers have been observed not only throughout the first floor, but also in various patient care areas, closed-to-the-public wings, and employee-only sections within the hospital. Our commitment to patient privacy is paramount, and that must be our primary focus.”
“We are proud to be a trusted resource for our community,” Conner said. “While we want to be as welcoming as possible, we absolutely have to put patient privacy first. When patients are being approached by walkers and asked, albeit with friendly intentions, ‘What brings you here today?’ then we know we must make a change. Every patient has the right to have his or her medical needs kept completely confidential.”
Although the hospital will no longer be an approved area for recreational walking, MercyOne Newton has reached out to other community entities to find safe, suitable and affordable alternatives.
A nearby option that comes at no cost is DMACC Newton Campus, located less than a mile away from the hospital, which permits community members to utilize the first-floor hallways during the building’s regular operating hours (8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Friday).
“We understand the concerns MercyOne Newton has regarding patient confidentiality,” Joe DeHart, provost, said. “DMACC Newton Campus welcomes the public to come walk.”
The Newton YMCA is also eager for individuals to come give them a try, according to CEO Frank Buckley.
“We welcome the opportunity to have local walkers come experience our friendly and inviting facility. In addition to walking, the YMCA offers several other means of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including swimming, water aerobics, fitness classes and a multitude of various cardio units available to all members. We even offer free coffee and a place to network with fellow members,” he said.
Buckley emphasized that the YMCA is intended to be affordable for everyone.
“For those on a fixed income or limited income, the YMCA offers financial assistance so everyone has the chance to participate,” he said.
“We truly appreciate these fellow community partners who are willing to welcome these walkers with open arms,” Conner said. “We are excited to promote wellness, while also preserving the privacy and security of our patients, which is our utmost responsibility.”