“We know from our experience that families are part of our patient care team,” said Ingrid Suurmann, acting president of St. Mary’s General Hospital.
While St. Mary’s and Waterloo Region’s two other hospitals still have posted visiting hours, the organizations also have informal ones to accommodate after-hours visitors.
“We have rules and we have flexibility,” Suurmann said.
Hospitals are looking at visiting hours now as they focus on improving the patient experience.
“One of the first ways is looking at things like visiting hours,” said Sue Robertson, an interim vice-president at Cambridge Memorial Hospital.
She agrees the approach to care is expanding, and visitors have an important role to play in a patient’s recovery.
“They’re going to improve faster or they’ll have the support there during their illness,” Robertson said.
Hospitals are increasingly taking a collaborative approach with patients and their families, including advisory councils to ask for their input on how care is provided.
Robertson said she can’t remember the last time visiting hours were rigidly enforced.
“It’s been changing for a significant period of time,” she said.
There are times when some limitations must be put on visitors, such as during an outbreak when patient safety is at risk.
“That time we want to make sure we limit how many people are coming in,” said Nisha Walibhai, director of quality and patient safety at Cambridge Memorial.
Visitor restrictions are also put in place in the Kitchener hospitals during outbreaks to prevent illness from spreading, and visitors are encouraged to stay away when they’re sick.
“We try to put safety first in all our decisions,” Suurmann said of St. Mary’s.
Balance is crucial in considering visiting hours, said Suurmann. Patient safety is a priority, along with ensuring they get the rest and care needed.
Space issues must be considered in older facilities, where patient areas are small and privacy can be at a premium. Before any changes can be made at St. Mary’s, agreement will be needed among the hospital’s different programs and professionals.
“We don’t want to have different hours and different expectations for people,” Suurmann said. “We have to make sure it works.”
She said they likely will continue with a case-by-case approach to visiting outside regular hours.
“For now, we feel pretty certain that we are honouring the wishes of patients and families,” Suurmann said.
She said there’s a simple guiding principle of compassion at the hospital: “What would you want done? That’s how we’ve always looked at it.”
Cambridge Memorial talks with all patients about visiting hours when they’re admitted, and people need only talk with the care team or charge nurse about visiting outside posted times. They would want to ensure there’s no disruption to procedures or therapy or to any neighbouring patients, especially in rooms occupied by more than one person.
“It’s probably pretty rare if that’s not able to be accommodated,” Robertson said.
For palliative care or gravely ill patients “family members will even stay over,” Walibahai said.
That’s the same at Grand River Hospital, where care goes from birth to end of life.
“Obviously, we want to be as flexible as possible so family can have that time they want,” said hospital spokesperson Mark Karjaluoto.
He said they don’t often hear complaints about visits, which they also consider individually outside regular hours.
“The trend has been going that way to more open hours in hospitals,” he said.
Grand River’s intensive care unit, renovated and expanded a few years ago, is now more accommodating to visitors. It’s bigger with private rooms, compared to the old, small curtained areas, and even has reclining chairs where family can snooze.
“We’ve expanded the opportunity for people to come in and visit,” Karjaluoto said.
But he said while the hospital is more open to extended visits, staff also encourage family members to take care of themselves and ensure they get enough sleep and downtime.
“It’s a tough time for a patient. It’s also a tough time for family.”
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