Nebraska health systems, medical centers lifting mask requirements

Omaha-area hospitals are dropping their mask requirements.
Published: Mar. 27, 2023 at 7:46 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A major group of health systems and medical centers in Nebraska announced Monday a plan to move away from mask requirements.

Masks will be optional in most areas of all local groups of healthcare systems, medical centers, and clinics by Monday: Boys Town, Bryan Health, Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, Madonna, Methodist Health System, and Nebraska Medicine. This follows CHI Health lifting masking requirements on March 20.

“We just may not wear them in every area of the hospital,” said Lori Umberger, chief nurse and executive vice president of operations at Boys Town National Research Hospital. “And the clinic setting, instead of universal masking, it will go back to the regular masking when we need it — when it’s appropriate.”

Masks have been part of our wardrobe for months, covering our faces to keep people safe from COVID in many hospitals in our area.

Medical experts told 6 News on Monday that COVID numbers are down: specifically, the number of hospitalizations has decreased since the height of the COVID outbreak. That prompted several Nebraska healthcare systems to decide it’s a good time to drop the mask requirements; the healthcare groups have been working together since the COVID outbreak began.

The announcement indicated that patients can expect some variation on policy depending on where they are seeking treatment because each health system and medical center has different capabilities and expertise for treating complex health conditions and diverse patient populations.

You can expect masking requirements will remain in effect in places that had the requirement before the pandemic.

If conditions change, preventative and required protective measures could be reinstated along with other preventative and protective measures.

While COVID cases are down, many metro area hospitals are lifting their mask requirements soon.

6 News also found out that there was an area of care where the masks were a bit of a hindrance.

Casey Schieffer is the behavioral health nurse supervisor at the Boys Town Residential Treatment Facility. He works with children who need a little more attention, and his unit is relieved that they now have the option to leave the masks in the box. He told 6 News that will help improve communications.

“It’s more difficult to do that with masks on — we’re a highly verbal model that we use on the unit, so the non-verbals don’t come across when we’re masking. So its been a very positive thing to have the mask removed,” he said. “With staff interaction, with staff-to-youth-interaction and then when the families come in and visit the youth on the weekend, and things like that; being able to do that face-to-face has been a very good thing.”

Casey said it has been difficult talking to young patients who really need to see faces. He believes masks limited the personal aspect of their care.

“You do the best you can — speaking through the mask is difficult, and it’s hot and uncomfortable,” he said. “But everyone made it along just fine; I think everyone understood that it was for the best care at the time for patients and staff.”

Boys Town officials tell 6 News the mask won’t go away, and patients will have the option of requiring masks for themselves and their caregivers.

“Absolutely — and they can certainly ask their healthcare provider to wear it if they will feel more comfortable if the healthcare provider wore it. We certainly will accommodate that. ... I think you’ll still see a lot of masking in the healthcare setting even though it’s not required.”