After almost three months of COVID-19 restrictions — during which Manitobans died in hospital without family members present, and patients communicated with loved ones via telephone or tablets only — the province will reopen health centre doors to visitors.
Health-care facilities will begin gradually easing visitor restrictions Friday after a successful trial earlier this week at Victoria General Hospital in Winnipeg.
All sites are expected to have new visitation measures in place by June 8.
Different numbers of visitors will be allowed depending on what type of ward the patient is on, said Lanette Siragusa, Shared Health chief nursing officer.
"We know the last few months have been incredibly difficult for patients and their families. The new visitor guidelines will allow most in-patients to identify a single, designated support person who may visit them once a day," Siragusa said Wednesday.
"This will be another evolution, as we learn and adapt through this pandemic. We believe these new guidelines strike a balance between protecting staff and patients, minimizing the spread of COVID, as well as ensuring that those vital connections with loved ones helps to promote health and healing."
In-patients who have been in hospital for more than 14 days will be allowed to identify a second support person to visit for the duration of their stay, she said.
"Most visitors will be restricted to visiting one at a time, though exceptions will be made for children under 14 who need to be accompanied by an adult," she said.
The changes come after weeks of complaints levelled at provincial public health officials.
Jack Wiens, 67, died March 22, days after a cancerous lung was removed. Prior to his death, his family tried for three days to convince staff at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre to let them visit, but to no avail.
After he died, they were allowed into the hospital.
"Nobody ever called me — they only called me when he was gone," said Wiens' wife, Mary Lou.
"When the doctor called and told me, I said, 'How dare you call me now?' If our story is what it takes to open their eyes that even in a pandemic there has to be compassion, let it be... No family should have to go through this."
The latest updates on the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.
Wiens, who spent decades working with the City of Winnipeg as driver for its mayors (including Robert Steen and Susan Thompson) and police chiefs, had surgery at HSC on March 16 prior to any COVID-19 visitor restrictions.
Three days later, while his family was visiting, hospital staff told them they had to leave because officials were now restricting visitors due to the coronavirus.
As Wiens' condition spiralled down, his wife called numerous times over the next few days to ask for updates and inquire if she could visit. On March 22, she was told he had been moved to intensive care; another call said doctors were with him; a few minutes later, a doctor called to say her husband had died.
"We were then allowed to see him, which is so confusing as we were allowed to march through the ICU where other patients were," daughter Cheryl said, adding the family has submitted a complaint to the hospital.
"We were allowed to stay with him as long as we needed, and other family members were allowed as well, so why not when he was alive?"
Kevin Rollason Reporter
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press.
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Provincial public health officials will allow hospital and health centre patients to once again accept visitors, but with restrictions.
The guidelines announced Wednesday will allow most in-patients to pick a single, designated support person who can see them once a day. For hospital stays longer than 14 days, they can add a second designated visitor.
Visitors are to be accepted one at a time, however, an adult can accompany a child under 14.
Exceptions have been made for certain patient populations, including:
• Labour and delivery: mothers can identify two support people who can be there at the same time, with one able to stay overnight. After the birth, two designated visitors can be there at the same time
• Pediatrics: two designated caregivers can visit every day, with one allowed to stay overnight
• End-of-life care: the care team, working on an estimated time line, will allow a maximum of four designated support people, with two able to visit together anytime outside of visiting hours, as long as they are physically distanced from the patient
• CancerCare Manitoba: patients will be allowed to have a support person with them if needed to access appointments and treatments
• Patients confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19 will be allowed visitors, but it will be restricted. Clinical care teams will grant exceptions and make sure appropriate PPE is worn
Public health officials said visitors will continue to be screened on entry to hospitals. Anyone who has travelled out of province, been in recent contact with someone confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19 or exhibit symptoms, will not be allowed to visit.
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