Vaccination changes the landscape for hospital, PCH visitors
By Tracy Thiele
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Monday, July 5, 2021
The role and value of visitation in healing has long been recognized in health care. When COVID-19 required hospitals, personal care homes, and other health centres around the world to reconsider their visitation principles in the wake of a deadly and highly contagious virus, it changed the way visits occurred and prevented most in-person interactions with visitors.
COVID-19 vaccination has now changed that landscape once again, this time for the better. Fully immunized Manitobans began having increased social visitation privileges at personal care homes, hospitals, and other health centres on June 21. These new visitation allowances were based on updated guidance principles issued throughout the province by Shared Health, and were meant to find a sustainable balance between preventative measures and the many recognized benefits of interaction between patients, residents, and their support systems.
Essentially, these new guidelines allow facilities to consider a person's COVID-19 immunization status when determining whether in-person, in-room visits may take place. The change applies to fully vaccinated individuals, and both the visitor and the resident/patient must be fully vaccinated to be permitted visits under the new rules. Visits may only occur 14 days after the person's final dose. Proof of immunization is required. In situations where either the patient or visitor (or both) are not fully vaccinated, visitor access continues to be restricted. Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated general visitors still have the option, as before, of outdoor visits where possible, and the use of visitation shelters at personal care homes.
It’s important to note these changes only apply to general visitors, generally defined as visits that are social in nature and where the visitor is not involved in the care of the patient or resident. There is no change to access for designated family caregivers at long-term care facilities, or for essential care partners at any health care facility. Visitor principles continue to support the role and importance of these essential partners, so the vaccination status of essential care partners or the patient/resident they are seeing is not a consideration. The existing provision allowing for the consideration of end-of-life care exceptions also remains in effect at all health care facilities.
The new principles for fully vaccinated people are in accordance with current infection prevention and control measures and public health advice. Facilities will continue with all infection prevention and control measures to ensure the ongoing protection of residents, patients, staff and visitors. For example, appropriate PPE, including medical masks, must still be worn during in-room visits, and physical distancing between the visitor and the resident/patient must still be maintained. Hand hygiene must be performed regularly, and sign-in-sign-out processes have been established for all visitors to support contact tracing.
At acute-care facilities like hospitals, general visitation (even for vaccinated visitors) is permitted in Green zones only, and applies only to in-patients who have been admitted to hospital and not to outpatient services like emergency departments, diagnostic services, or day procedures.
Facilities can determine the hours of visitation, as well as the maximum number of visitors per patient/resident per day, and the total maximum number of visitors inside the facility at any given time. Generally, a maximum of two visitors at any time will be applied to in-room visitation, provided there is enough space to maintain physical distancing. A maximum of four visitors is in place for outdoor visits with PCH residents. Visitors to acute care sites may only visit once a day.
Some facilities may implement regularly scheduled general visits through a booking system or designated drop-in times, while providing reasonable flexibility to accommodate for varied circumstances of individual residents and patients, as well as their families and support networks. Would-be visitors are encouraged to check ahead with their individual facility to plan visits. Patients and residents are encouraged to consult with their care team to enquire about visiting logistics.
Acceptable documentation for proof of immunization may include a QR code copy or paper copy of a Manitoba immunization card, online confirmation of your vaccine record through the Shared Health Online Results Portal, or a printed copy of your vaccine record from the Shared Health Online Results Portal.
Every visit to a health care facility brings with it the inherent risk of exposure or transmission of COVID-19, so in-patients, PCH residents, and their support networks should still consider virtual visits where possible. Vaccination reduces that risk, and therefore vaccinated patients, residents, and visitors have a lot to look forward to with this new visitation landscape.
Tracy Thiele is the Acute Care Operations Lead for WRHA COVID-19 Incident Command