ST. JOSEPH — One of the toughest parts of being in the hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic is that family members can’t visit their loved ones.

“Visitation has been shut down everywhere. It’s the only way we can minimize transmission to folks who are otherwise sick and vulnerable,” said Dr. Loren Hamel, president of Spectrum Health Lakeland and chief strategy officer of Spectrum Health System.

To help families stay in touch, Spectrum Health Lakeland officials reached out to Lakeshore Public Schools Superintendent Phil Freeman last week, asking to borrow some of the school district’s Apple iPads.

In less than two days, Freeman said 150 of the devices were delivered to the hospital.

“What a great community partnership we have,” Freeman said.

Megan Yore, director of marketing at Spectrum Health Lakeland, agreed.

“We’re all supporting each other,” she said.

She said patients can use their own cell phones, but not everyone has one.

“What we’re doing right now is we have to reprogram them and then we’re ensuring that they’re able to be turned into phones,” she said. “There’s some technical things we need to do with them.”

Getting the iPads quickly was critical. Local health officials believe a surge of COVID-19 cases could hit Southwest Michigan in the next two weeks.

In addition, Freeman said the iPads can be used by health care professionals during their rounds.

“If I can communicate with patients without having to go in and out of the room, then I don’t have to resanitize ... and use up some of the equipment,” he said.

The iPads will further satisfy a new executive order Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed on Sunday, which extended the mandate that non-essential visitors not be allowed in heath care facilities through May 3.

It added the requirement that facilities “use best efforts to facilitate remote visitations between individuals under their care and their loved ones, using phone or video conferencing software.”

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege