Visitor restrictions in ERs a challenge for families and patients, advocate says
Visitor restrictions to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in hospitals are making it difficult for patients and their loved ones to deal with a health crisis, according to family members and a foundation that supports patients and caregivers.
“A lot of loved ones haven’t been able to participate in that diagnosis, in some of the treatments,” said Michael Schiefer, executive director of the Never Alone Cancer Foundation.
Just this week at least one family contacted Manitoba’s health minister with concerns about accessing the emergency department to be with a sick relative.
The family, who wishes to remain anonymous at this time, said this week they contacted Health Minister Audrey Gordon because an essential care partner wasn’t allowed to be at their sick loved one’s side despite both patient and visitor being fully vaccinated.
Schiefer sympathizes with the family. The organization he leads provides informational, emotional and financial support to people living with cancer and their families.
Schiefer himself has tried to visit people who are sick with cancer in Winnipeg ERs during the pandemic but hasn’t always been allowed in.
“And certainly the ERs are a big barrier because they don’t allow anyone in unless there’s really overriding circumstances,” Schiefer said.
The restrictions have been put in place to prevent the risk of COVID-19 spreading to patients and staff, a measure Shared Health said it’s carefully balanced with access to caregivers. But as COVID-related hospital admissions continue—largely among the unvaccinated—the impact on the health-care system, patients and their families remains significant.
“While these decisions are made by care teams based on individual patient circumstances and needs, we certainly empathize with the additional stress that visitor restrictions can have when care in a hospital is necessary,” said a Shared Health spokesperson.
While one essential care partner is allowed to be with a patient in some areas of a hospital, Shared Health said the rules in the ER are different.
“Generally, the allowance of essential care partners in the emergency department is subject to the assessment of space, activity and the patient’s need,” the spokesperson said. “The ability to manage each area’s overall activity within the confines of the environment and physical distancing requirements is dynamic and at the discretion of the department and facility.”
Making matters worse, COVID-19 is interrupting patient flow. For example, Shared Health said people who’ve potentially delayed care during the pandemic are generally sicker and staying in hospital longer which is having a trickle-down effect on ERs due to the hospital’s inability to discharge patients.
Shared Health said it’s aware of the family’s concern in this case and noted its patient relations office has been contact with them.
Schiefer said the restrictions are a source of frustration for families who feel they can’t be there to advocate for their loved one.
“I think that is really a big missing piece because as hard as those health care workers are there for people and working hard, they’re missing a portion, there’s a connection they just won’t have with that person,” Schiefer said.
Shared Health is reassuring people HSC’s emergency department continues to provide safe, quality care and that people in need of emergency help shouldn’t hesitate to visit the ER or call 911.
While officials said the situation is having minimal impact on wait times for the sickest patients, Shared Health said wait times for patients with less urgent needs have gone up and are well above normal levels.