Committing to Family Presence during COVID: An Alberta Story

March 7, 2022

Committing to Family Presence during COVID: An Alberta Story

By Amy Richardson

Jennifer Symon is a registered nurse whose passion for family presence at patient bedside grew after caring for her husband, as he battled a rare disease in hospital. Jennifer now works with the Alberta Health Services (AHS) Engagement and Patient Experience department. 

On March 16, she’ll join an Essential Together huddle to talk about AHS' commitment to family presence. Since June 2020, even during the Delta wave when they were at full-capacity, AHS has had a policy in place to safely support Essential Care Partners (ECPs), also known as Designated Support Persons. Register for the huddle to learn how your organization can also safely welcome and engage Essential Care Partners. 

We talked to Jennifer ahead of her appearance to hear more about her story on improving patient care and experience in Alberta. 


Q: Why has AHS committed to family presence, even during COVID 19? 

JS: One of our values is patient-and family-centered care and we wanted to stick close to it even in hard times. Everybody gets somebody - that’s our mantra. We believe that ECPs are an essential and equal part of the care team. The question wasn’t if we could get them in, it was “how can we get them in safely?” 


Q: What’s the role of the task force that AHS created to do this work? 

JS: The task force’s job is to set the tone for an organization of 100,000 staff across the province. We bring people together from operations, clinical ethics, protective services, infection control, palliative care, data analytics and patient concerns to support staff and patients. This can mean anything from ensuring that both staff and ECPs are protected by air masks (N95s, KN95s) to helping ECPs understand their role and risks. 


Q: What are some of the challenges AHS has faced in this journey? 

JS: There have been ebbs and flows. Some healthcare workers have been nervous about the safety of family presence and the risk it may pose to employee safety in healthcare. The pandemic has been especially hard on them every day and in every moment, they bring it home with them. We recognize their concerns and have also had to acknowledge that less than 1% of staff COVID cases result from transmission from an ECP. 


Q: What motivates you to do this work as a nurse, policymaker and family caregiver? 

JS: I think about my husband, the year he spent in the hospital and how the presence of his family was a game-changer that led to a quality improvement in his healthcare. We need to be COVID-safe but we also have to ensure that our patients get this same opportunity and have the best person-centred care. At Alberta Health Services that means everybody gets somebody. 


Register for our upcoming webinar to hear the full story of how AHS is making family presence part of their healthcare improvement efforts. 

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