Starting Thursday, visitor restrictions at continuing-care centres across Alberta will be eased, allowing families to reconnect with loved ones they’ve been isolated from as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The move comes as the number of cases continue to rise in Alberta; however, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw has previously said there’s no specific cutoff to trigger rules to become restrictive once again.
“I think it’s going to have a huge effect to be honest,” said Dr. Kirsten Fiest, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Calgary, of the relaxed visitor policy.
“I’m hopeful it will help a lot of people who have been socially isolated for a long time. I just think that we’re going to see these people – who were in long-term care and their families – just have a bit of, maybe, an easement in the burden they’ve been facing being isolated.”
Fiest recently received a Canadian Institutes of Health Research grant to study the impact of restricted visitor policies during COVID-19 at hospitals, intensive care units and long-term care facilities on patients, families and health-care providers.
“We saw the emotional toll that it was taking on these individuals,” she said.
Fiest said the research will look at visitor policies that existed prior to the pandemic and compare them with policies enacted during the pandemic. The effects of the policies on health and well-being have been well-documented; Fiest said the focus of the research will be on what changes can be made in the future.
“What we’re really trying to do is come up with some recommendations, at the end of the day, from a holistic perspective…so that we can ensure that future policies are enacted in a way that maybe doesn’t have such a significant impact.”
Fiest said some possible recommendations could include more training or education around donning and doffing personal protective equipment and exploring more virtual options for people to have contact.
Changes to visitor policies
Each facility will create a local visitor policy after consultation with residents, family and staff, and under the new policy, each resident will be able to have two support people – up from one under the previous restrictions.
The two support people will be able to visit the resident as often as they like and for as long as they like, as long as they co-ordinate with the facility.
Depending on the residents’ health, outdoor visits will be allowed with up to four additional visitors and will no longer require one of those visitors to be the designated support person.
If the facility has a designated spot for indoor visits, those four people may be allowed to visit indoors. Hinshaw said that will be allowed in certain circumstances and only if it is safe and if it is part of the facility’s plan.
“There are no risk-free options with COVID-19,” she said. “This virus is still here and residents in these facilities remain uniquely vulnerable.
“At the same time, we must also consider the overall health and well-being of those residents and the risks of isolation brought on by strict, universally applied visitor restrictions.”
Also new is an appeal process to properly fight a facility’s visitor regulation decision.
Other measures, including staff and visitor symptom checks and exposure screening, as well as restrictions on staff only working in one facility, remain in place.