Amid the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals clamped down on visitors to protect patients and staff. Now, as Ontario’s situation continues to improve, experts and family members are calling on hospitals to loosen those restrictions.
Teresa Amoroso is among those calling for more access. Six weeks ago, her partner Troy suffered a massive stroke. Even after he was moved out of the ICU, he’s only allowed one of two designated visitors per day, for just one hour.
“As much as the staff have been wonderful in providing phone updates, when you can’t get a visual of how your loved one is doing it can be very distressing,” said Amoroso.
And not just for her sake. Amoroso said it’s been stressful for her partner, who has been asking to see other family members or friends. For the great majority of his day, aside from visits from hospital staff, Amoroso said he’s alone in his bed.
“I believe if he was given more opportunity to see more people, I think that would also benefit his recovery,” she said.
Now double-vaccinated, Amoroso said she believes she and other family members should be given more access.
One of the province’s leading advocates for protecting the health care system during the pandemic also thinks the time is right for hospitals to ease up on such restrictions.
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“I actually think patients get better care when there is someone there advocating for them,” said Dr. Michael Warner, director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto.
“We are going to be more attentive if there is a family member there.”
Aside from public health procedures, like excluding COVID-19-symptomatic visitors or those who have had close contacts, Warner said he saw no reason why visitors shouldn’t be given more access now.
“I think the benefits vastly outweigh any risk and the benefits are massive for patients, healthcare workers, and for those people who are afraid to come to hospital because they don’t want to be alone,” he said.
Warner pointed out that physicians tend to rely on essential visitors, especially if there is a language barrier. He also said the people who know a patient the most are the best suited to advocate for their interests and help out staff who may be called elsewhere.
Dr. Farhad Razak, who sits on the provincial COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, agreed Ontario’s high vaccination rates and improving situation should allow for relaxed policies in hospitals.
“You screen them appropriately that you can have them safely visit a patient in hospital with very, very low risk of any infectious outbreaks happening because of that visit,” he said.
But Razak added he thinks there is still a need for some caution and the doors shouldn’t be thrown wide open just yet.
“Really focus on essential caregivers and family members,” he said.
“I don’t think we’re ready for just a general relaxation of visitor policies.”
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Razak said it’s important to remember hospitals are both busy and crowded settings. Inviting more people inside, he said, will create challenges for hospital staff to effectively implement public health policies like physical distancing.
When asked whether the government would make any recommendations for hospitals, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Health said it will leave it to hospitals. Hospitals are independent organizations, the spokesperson said, and setting policies such as visitation, will be left up to them.
Warner said he is also in favour of that approach. But he noted there is already a patchwork of different policies across several hospital networks and emphasized there’s a need for them to come together for an aligned approach to visitation.
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