Having a family member in palliative care is a challenging, emotional experience.  COVID-19 restrictions at Hawkesbury and District General Hospital (HGH)—and every other hospital across Ontario and Québec, have changed how people spend those final days with loved ones.

Pete Laliberté’s father recently died as a patient at HGH.  During his father’s final days, the family faced some challenges because the number of family members who could be at his bedside was restricted.

“We are quite strict in regard to our visitors at HGH,” said Clinical Director and Interim Chief Nurse Executive, Julie Milks.

HGH has a no-visitor policy in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, special exceptions do exist. Inpatient Intensive Care Unit (ICU) patients, and patients requiring special support are permitted in some instances to have a visitor. Milks explained that patients who have received a serious diagnosis or are agitated and aggressive will not be denied the presence of one family member.

“We’re not going to let three or four people in at the same time,” said Milks.

Palliative patients whose death is imminent are permitted to have two family members at their bedside.  Regular palliative patients are permitted to have one family member at their bedside.

“None of our patients at HGH have died on their own,” Milks said.

In large families, members can take turns being the one or two people at their palliative loved one’s bedside.

According to Milks, there have been no significant difficulties with the families of palliative patients adjusting to the rules.

“They’re pretty good.  We try to accommodate as much as we can,” she said.

The strict policy on visitors is intended to protect hospital staff and other patients and follows directions given by the Ontario government.  For the visitors who are allowed under special circumstances, nurses instruct them how to safely use the protective equipment they must wear during the visit.  Additionally, hospital visitors are not permitted to walk around the building.  The cafeteria is closed to non-employees.

In the case of Pete Laliberté and his family, two family members were allowed to be present in his father’s room at HGH, but some family members found that to be difficult because not all of them could say goodbye together.  Lalibertè was able though to spend time with his father at the hospital and mother went to stay with his sister when she was not able to be there due to the rules.

A similar visitor policy is in effect at Glengarry Memorial Hospital in Alexandria.  Only one visitor at a time per patient is permitted, and only for compassionate reasons.