Essential Together

Essential Together

Through Essential Together, we’re working with health and care organizations to support them to re-integrate, welcome and engage essential care partners as part of care teams, during COVID-19 and beyond.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to blanket visitor restrictions that prohibit essential care partners from being with loved ones in health and care settings. Although the restrictive policies were put in place with the best intentions, they have contributed to other risks and unintended harm to patients and families, as well as moral distress to staff.

Healthcare Excellence Canada launched Essential Together – a program to support policy makers, policy implementers and those who experience policy relating to family presence during the pandemic and beyond.

We’re calling on health and care organizations across the country to join Essential Together and implement co-created policy guidance so that essential care partners can continue being active members of care teams that benefits patient care, patient safety and outcomes, including during COVID-19.

 Essential Together takes a balanced approach to support the safe re-integration of essential care partners. The program offers:

  • Learning bundles with tools and resources that can be adapted to implement the policy guidance (available to anyone interested).
  • Essential Together Huddles that create an open and safe supportive space for people to learn from and connect with others who are facing similar challenges (available to anyone interested).
  • Access to dedicated coaching and other support (for organizations that formally join the program).
  • Ongoing peer learning and connections.

Essential care partners are different from general visitors. While visitors have an important social role, they are not active partners in care. Essential care partners provide physical, psychological and emotional support, as deemed important by the patient. There is clear evidence that the presence of essential care partners benefits care, experience, safety and outcomes.

Join Essential Together


We know there is different language and terminology used across the country, but to make sure we provide as much clarity as possible, in this context:

Blanket visitor restrictions refer to restrictions that extend to all “visitors” entering a facility, often without exceptions, including essential care partners.

Essential care partners provide physical, psychological and emotional support, as deemed important by the patient. This care can include support in decision making, care coordination and continuity of care. Essential care partners are identified by the patient (or substitute decision maker) and can include family members, close friends or other caregivers.

Patients includes residents and clients.

Patient partners include patients, residents, clients, families, caregivers and care partners, and others with lived experience who are working together with teams to improve the quality and safety of healthcare.

Health and care facilities refers to hospitals, long-term care/residential care/nursing homes and other congregate care settings as well as primary care and outpatient care settings.

Open family presence policies support the presence of essential care partners at patient bedside at any time and not restricted by “visiting hours.”

Supporting partners

Alberta Health Services BC Patient Safety and Quality Council
Health Quality Council of Alberta Canada Health Infoway
Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care Imagine Citizens Collaborating for Health
Mental Health Commission of Canada Manitoba Institute for Patient Safety
Saskatchewan Health Authority Saskatchewan Health Quality Council
The Ontario Caregiver Organization  

[i] Farmanova, Elina, Maria Judd, Christine Maika, and Graeme Wilkes. “Much More Than Just a Visit: A Review of Visiting Policies in Select Canadian Acute Care Hospitals.” Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (2016), .