Coronavirus: Hamilton hospitals implement no-visitor policy during COVID-19 pandemic

St. Joseph’s Healthcare is the first hospital in Ontario to to move away from faxes to a paperless form of clinical data transfer between itself and long-term care homes. Lisa Polewski / Global News

St. Joseph’s Healthcare and Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) hospitals — including Hamilton General and Juravinski hospitals — are no longer allowing visitors to their facilities as of Friday in an ongoing fight against the spread of the new coronavirus.

“The policy is being introduced as part of our ongoing efforts to protect the public, patients, staff and physicians from the potential transmission of the COVID-19 virus,” said St. Joe’s spokesperson Elaine Mitropoulos in a media release.

There are some limited exceptions for St. Joe’s, according to Mitropoulos, which include compassionate grounds for those who have connections to some palliative patients.

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Other exceptions may be partners of women in labour and others with special needs.

The exceptions are to be determined by the hospital’s patient care team, according to the release.

St. Joe’s is recommending friends and family reach out to patients using free Wi-Fi, telephone and the hospital’s television services.

Meanwhile, HHS has adopted a similar policy that is set to be implemented as of noon Friday, discontinuing visits to its hospitals, including Hamilton General, Juravinski Hospital, Juravinski Cancer Centre, McMaster University Medical Centre, St. Peter’s Hospital and West Lincoln Memorial Hospital.

“We are doing this to maintain a safe environment for our patients, staff and physicians,” HHS spokesperson Lillian Badzioch said in a press release Friday morning.

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HHS said its exceptions — to be approved by a clinical manager or delegate — include those who have a connection to a pediatric patient with COVID-19, ambulatory clinics, the emergency department, patients having surgery or a partner who is pregnant or in labour.

Other exceptions, such as end-of-life scenarios, will also be considered for entry.

“In circumstances where it’s really very appropriate that visitors be present related to how sick somebody is or just what other kinds of supports they need, we will be able to accommodate that,” said Dr. Barry Lumb Physician in Chief, “But the guideline and our hope is that people won’t come to the hospital unless they have to.”

On Tuesday, St. Joe’s began COVID-19 screening protocols for staff, patients and visitors at its health-care facilities.

HHS began a similar program on Thursday.

Those protocols are expected to continue, minus the now-banned visitors.

Lumb says the no-visitors policy is a move to prepare the hospital in anticipation of more positive COVID-19 cases in the weeks ahead.

“Conversations are literally happening all the time about making sure that we’ve got all the modeling and all of the preparations in place for when it does happen. It’s not if, it’s when and how big.”

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Upon arrival, patients can expect to be asked general questions about their current health, recent travel history and contact with those who have recently travelled overseas.

The questions also apply to any visitors granted special entry, however they will not be allowed in if they fail the screening, according to both health-care providers.

Elective surgeries and other non-emergency activities at all St. Joe’s and HHS hospitals have been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hamilton Public Health has confirmed 25 positive cases of COVID-19 in the city as of March 20.

On Friday morning the province revealed two more travel related positive tests which included a man in his 40s who visited the U.S., and a woman in her 70s who returned from a Caribbean cruise.

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Both are reported to be in self-isolation, says the Ministry of Health.

A pair of COVID-19 assessment centres are now open at the HHS urgent care clinic at 690 Main St. W. and the east-end clinic at 2757 King St. E., which is operated by St. Joseph’s Healthcare.

The assessment centres are by appointment only for those who have a referral from their doctor or Hamilton Public Health based on symptoms such as a cough or fever, travel history and exposure to known cases.

The City of Hamilton adds that additional COVID-19 assessment centres may open later, as needed.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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