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Policy Guidance for the Reintegration of Caregivers as Essential Care Partners

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare facilities in Canada implemented blanket visitor restriction policies that prohibited essential care partners from entering facilities and partnering in patient care. While directives have continued to shift over time, many directives and policies lack clarity in differentiating between the role of visitors and essential care partners. 

Essential care partners differ from general visitors and restricting their physical presence in healthcare institutions can lead to unintended harm for patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers. There is clear evidence that demonstrates the presence of, and engagement with, essential care partners benefits care, experience, safety and outcomes.

During the summer of 2020, the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement and Canadian Patient Safety Institute (the organizations that have now formed Healthcare Excellence Canada) partnered to conduct a “policy lab” to develop policy guidance to support a safe and consistent approach for reintegrating essential care partners back into healthcare facilities, long-term care and congregate care settings during a pandemic. This co-design policy process brought together people with a diverse range of expertise and COVID-19 related experience – including policy makers, healthcare administrators, providers, patients, families and caregivers. This policy guidance was updated during the summer of 2021 as the context of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change, and we consider and plan for recovery and resiliency.

Through the process, three foundational principles were identified for the successful reintegration of essential care partners:

  1. Differentiate between visitors and family caregivers as essential care partners
  2. Recognize the value of caregivers as essential care partners
  3. Ensure patients, families and caregivers have a voice in the development of policies related to visitors and essential care partners.

The following policy guidance for the reintegration of essential care partners focuses on two key areas where barriers to consistent and supportive access of caregivers have been noted:

  1. Identification and preparation of essential care partners
    • Develop mutual expectations of responsibilities
    • Establish pre-entry preparation for essential care partners
    • Establish staff education to understand roles and safety protocols for essential care partners
    • Establish a rapid appeals process
  1. Entry into the facility
    • Establish a clearly communicated screening process
    • Establish caregiver IDs for essential care partners
    • Ensure essential care partners are informed about existing and updated infection prevention and control protocols.

The implementation of this guidance should be based on the local context of the healthcare facility. Changes made to processes and policies, and the communication of these policies, need to be co-developed with patients, families, caregivers and providers in order to meet everyone’s collective needs.

HEC has launched the Essential Together program to support organizations to implement the policy guidance. Learn more about the Essential Together program here.

Policy Guidance (September 2021)

Policy Guidance (November 2020)