Family Support & Visitation of Patients & Residents

novel coronavirus (COVID-19)

Important Message

If a unit or facility is on outbreak, Designated Family/Support Person and visitor access may be restricted. Please refer to the acute care outbreaks page and contact the unit or site for more information.

Designated Family/Support vs. Visitor|Know Your Risk / Know Your Role|Hospital (Inpatient)|Ambulatory (Outpatient) – ED/UCC|Continuing Care| End-of-Life|Compassionate Exemptions|What to Expect|Screening & Orientation|Virtual Visitation

Last Updated: November 17, 2020

Family and loved ones play an essential role in the emotional, physical and mental well-being of our patients and residents, and AHS continues to work with families and facilities to support visitation appropriate to the ongoing pandemic situation. We have regularly revisited our visitation guidelines, since April, and adjusted them to reflect the current evidence and COVID-19 transmission in Alberta.

Effective Nov. 16, given the sustained volume of COVID-19 cases in our province, AHS has again revised access to AHS acute care sites for the purposes of visitation. Specifically, only designated family/support persons are permitted to visit in-patients at this time.  Beyond designated family/support persons, visitor access is allowed only for patients at end-of-life and for those receiving critical care for a life-threatening illness. These visits must be booked in advance with the service area. For more information on the difference between a designated family/support person and a visitor, refer to the section below.

This decision was not made lightly, and we understand it has been difficult for all involved. We thank everyone for continuing to work together to support all of those in our care. We simply must do all we can to protect our patients and the staff caring for them.

Before entering an AHS site, please contact the unit, site or service area for more information.

Designated Family/Support vs. Visitor

A Designated Family/Support Person is:

  • Someone identified by the patient as an important support
  • Someone the patient wants involved in their care and health matters
  • A relative, legal guardian, close friend or formal/informal caregiver
  • 18 years of age or older for continuing care residents
  • 18 years of age or older for pediatric patients
  • 14 years of age or older for acute care patients

A Visitor is:

  • Not involved in the patient/resident’s health care
  • Someone whose time with the patient is discretionary and usually temporary
  • Visiting for purposes that are more social in nature

View Designated Family / Support Person & Visitor Access Guidance - printable version (also available in most Translated Resources).

Know Your Risk / Know Your Role

We are encouraging staff, patients/residents, and Designated Family / Support Persons to work together to reduce the amount of time spent in AHS facilities by considering what support needs to be provided in person and what can be provided virtually.

Designated Family/Support Persons should assess their risk of exposure and transmission of COVID-19 before they enter an AHS site. To support this, we have created two brochures: Know Your Risk and Know Your Role.

Thinking of Supporting or Visiting a Patient in a Hospital?

All Ambulatory Clinics (including Emergency Department/Urgent Care)

  • Patients may identify one Designated Family/Support Person to accompany them while accessing ambulatory, emergency or urgent care services in AHS facilities.
  • Each AHS clinic, unit and facility is unique. There may be situations or circumstances within facilities where physical distancing or other factors will not allow for a designated family/support person to be present with a patient.
  • When possible, staff will communicate any access restrictions for designated/family support persons in advance of the appointment.
  • Effective Nov. 16, a second designated family/support person may be requested by a clinic if they are essential to the appointment and virtual options for meeting are not possible.
  • All support persons must be over the age of 14 for adult clinic visits. If visiting the Alberta Children’s Hospital or the Stollery Children’s Hospital, the Designated Family/Support Person must be 18 years of age or older.

All Inpatient Settings (Admission to Hospitals)

  • Patients may identify two Designated Family/Support Persons while admitted to an inpatient unit in an acute care facility. If the room is large enough for physical distancing to be maintained, both Designated Family/Support Persons may be permitted at the same time. If not, they must attend one at a time.
    • Effective Nov. 16, only designated family/support persons are permitted to visit in-patients at this time.  Beyond designated family/support persons, visitor access is allowed only for patients at end-of-life and for those receiving critical care for a life-threatening illness. These visits must be booked in advance with the service area.
  • Also effective Nov. 16, a patient may identify a replacement Designated Family/Support Person if the original support person is unable to perform their role. This may be due to self-isolation requirements, caregiver fatigue or illness, for example. The intent is not for this designate to change regularly, or multiple times, but to enable a replacement when required. Please inform your healthcare team about your replacement support person.
  • All facilities will have a screener greet Designated Family/Support Persons to conduct the health screening and verify if the person is authorized to enter the site.

Gifts and Personal Patient Belongings

  • Designated Family/Support Person must check with the site/facility prior to bringing gifts and personal patient belongings to the site.
  • The site/facility may require that items be cleaned and disinfected. Please check with the site prior to drop off.

Outdoor Visits in Acute Care

  • Effective Nov. 16, outdoor visitation is not recommended at this time, given the risk of exposure and transmission in the community.

Maternity/Postpartum

  • In consultation with the unit manager/charge nurse on a case-by-case basis, other support persons (e.g. surrogate parent or Doula) may be permitted in addition to the two Designated Family/Support Persons. Designated Support Persons on a maternity ward must be 14 years of age or older.
  • Special consideration may be given to a symptom free Designated Family/Support Person who is under quarantine or isolation. See Obstetrical Screening and Visitation Guidance for more information.

Pediatrics/NICU

  • Two individuals may be Designated Family/Support Persons.
  • If the room is large enough for physical distancing to be maintained, both Designated Family/Support Persons may be permitted at the same time. If not, they must attend one at a time.
  • A child age 14 years and older can visit an admitted patient in addition to one designated family/support person.
  • Children under 14 years of age are currently not permitted to visit. However, for compassionate reasons (such as at the end-of-life) and on a case by case basis, exceptions will be considered in consultation with the unit manager/charge nurse.
  • Breastfed infants are able to accompany their mother.
  • Parents/guardians under quarantine or isolation for COVID-19 may be permitted to visit. See Acute Care Guidance for Parents/Guardians Accompanying Children for more information.
  • Ambulatory areas remain restricted to patients being accompanied by one Designated Family/Support Person 18 years of age or older.

Adults with Disabilities

End–of-Life Situations

  • Two Designated Family/Support Persons at a time can be present if the room is large enough for physical distancing to be maintained between individuals.
  • The attending physician, in consultation with the unit manager/charge nurse, determines if the patient condition is considered end-of-life.

View Family Support & Visitation Guidance - printable version (also available in most Translated Resources).

Thinking of Supporting or Visiting a Resident in Long Term Care, Supportive Living or Congregate Living?

Continuing care facilities operate under an approach to family support and visitation based on CMOH Order 29-2020. All licensed supportive living, long-term care and hospice facilities will follow this Order.

Residents of these sites are at extreme risk if exposed to COVID-19, therefore a safe visitation approach is required.

Indoor visits:

  • Each resident or alternate decision maker may designate up to two Designated Family/Support Persons (over the age of 18) who are essential to maintaining mental and physical health.
  • Additional visitors may be given access in specific situations including end-of-life, change in health status or other pressing circumstances (e.g. financial or legal matters, family crisis).

Outdoor visits:

  • Up to five individuals, including the resident, may participate in outdoor visits, if consistent with site policy and public health measures.

For more information please review CMOH Order 29-2020, Protecting Residents at Congregate Care Facilities and What to Expect, before your visit.

Book a visit using the Request a Visit tool. View the Scheduling a visit with your Loved One(s) in Continuing Care Sites infographic for help on booking a visit.

End-of-Life

While it is difficult to be precise around when a patient/resident is at end-of-life, this generally refers to the last four to six weeks of life.

  • All persons considered to be at the end-of-life can have a Designated Family/Support Person with them as much as required. Their presence should be coordinated with the care team and reflect the needs of both the patient and their Designated Family/Support Person.
  • Other support persons/visitors may visit as long as the visits are pre-arranged with the site/unit.
  • Children under age 14 may visit if accompanied by an adult.
  • If the room is large enough for social/physical distancing to be maintained, up to three individuals may be permitted at the same time.

End-of-life guidance applies to individuals in hospice, from the time of admission. The enhanced guidelines also recognize unique end-of-life considerations for Indigenous individuals.

For more information please review CMOH Order 29-2020 and Family Support & Visitation Guidance - printable version (also available in most Translated Resources).

Compassionate Exemptions from Quarantine

Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services have established a process for persons seeking exemption from either federal and/or provincial quarantine to visit a patient, client or resident who is receiving critical care for a life-threatening illness or imminent end-of-life care at an AHS, Covenant or continuing care facility or in a home setting.

To request a visit with a loved one in one of these settings, follow these steps.

What to Expect

To support and visit a patient or resident you must:

  • Understand the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for yourself and others, the risk tolerance at a site, as well as follow all required site policies and public health measures.
  • Ensure the patient/resident has identified you as a Designated Family Support Person, and wear Designated Family Support identification.
  • Be feeling well on the date/time of your visit
  • Be 14 years of age and older OR accompanied by an adult. For pediatrics (Alberta Children’s Hospital and the Stollery Children’s Hospital), children under the age of 14 are not allowed to visit. For continuing care, children under 18 years of age must be accompanied by an adult.
  • Complete health screening prior to entering the facility, including a temperature check for fever over 38 degrees Celsius and a questionnaire.
  • Sign in and out of all visits.
  • Continuously wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth.
  • Remain in the patient’s room as much as possible and minimize movement within the facility.
  • Perform hand hygiene (hand washing and/or use of hand sanitizer) when entering and leaving the facility and when entering and leaving the patient/resident’s room.

Screening & Orientation

Facilities will have a screener greet each person to conduct the health screening and verify the Designated Family/Support Person is authorized to attend as per the above. AHS units and teams will be responsible for providing an orientation to patients and their Designated Family/Support Persons including:

  • Communicating the risks, requirements and responsibilities of being in the service area.
  • Providing appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to Designated Family/Support Person(s) and instructions on how to use PPE, hand hygiene and other infection prevention and control precautions for the service area.
  • View Screening Questionnaires: Acute Care & Continuing Care

Virtual Visitation

There may be circumstances when a visit cannot be accommodated because of several factors, including: patient circumstances, operational considerations (e.g. unit or facility is on outbreak), site-specific risks and the level of COVID-19 transmission in the community.

If it is not possible to have an in-person visit, our staff will communicate this to the patient/resident and their designated family/support person, and discuss options based on need. Our staff will do their best to support virtual visits by phone, video calls or chat apps. For more information on staying connected virtually, refer to: Using Technology to Stay Connected with your Loved Ones.