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Hospitals ahead of the curve on visiting time

Familiar faces and having a support system close by can make all the difference in a hospital stay, a traditionally uncomfortable experience.

Waterloo Region hospitals are ahead of the curve on a national recommendation to eliminate restrictive visiting hours, giving families the chance to stay near their loved ones.

The Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement says more hospitals should be following suit by introducing policies bringing family and friends into a patient’s care plan.

In a recent report, the group notes there is evidence that family presence policies improve patient outcomes and, “creates greater satisfaction among patients and their families.”

Grand River Hospital and St. Mary’s General Hospital both loosened their visitor policies last summer, removing the 8:30 p.m. end time for visiting hours.

Mark Karljaluoto, director of communications at Grand River Hospital, said he has heard only good things in the six months since the hospital relaxed the rules. However, it isn’t a free-for-all with anyone allowed in the hospital at any time of day.

“There are circumstances where you may have two to four people in a room, only separated by curtains. Our staff is able to say to a visitor, ‘hey, you know that pizza party you wanted to have at 1 a.m.? That might not be a good idea,’” he said. “It was about making sure that we were defining what our patients wanted how we are accommodating them. What we are saying is that at 8:30 p.m., we aren’t going to kick you out if the patient wants you to stay.”

Wilfrid Laurier University associate professor Margaret Schneider teaches in the kinesiology department and is an expert in caregiving and quality of life. She says opening up visiting hours at hospitals is about making the patient comfortable and supported.

“We know that having friends and family around you while you are recovering from illness is essential,” she said. “Having that support system in place, with very few barriers, to me that would seem essential. Patients need that outside support.”

She noted it is also about having an extra set of eyes on patients by having family around.

“Hospitals are much busier these days, so nurses and care attendants don’t have as much time per patient. Oftentimes the  family and friends have that close connection with patients and bring them in when they need help. They can’t be on top of every single patient, so my guess would be that even the health care staff would appreciate that from the perspective of knowing that someone is monitoring the health of the patient to a greater extent than they are capable of doing,” she said.

Karljaluoto says the change has been positive, and encourages other healthcare facilities to do their research and work on something similar.

“There was a lot of discussion, and it worked for us. We heard the opinions forming form those who might have been hesitant to a new policy, making sure that the patient’s choice is reflected,” he said.

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