Houston: Communication with families needed after new changes to hospital visitation rules

Families with a loved one receiving care at Halifax hospitals were caught off guard by a change to visitation rules Saturday morning, one that excludes families from being in the building. 


The change was not mentioned at Friday’s COVID-19 press conference. 


Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston isn’t taking issue with the restrictions but says surprise NSHA decisions aren’t the best way to deal with beating COVID-19. Houston says families need a point of contact to get information on their loved ones' condition, even when they aren’t allowed in the building.


“There has to be a plan in place to ensure that families know what is happening to their loved one in hospital,” says Houston. “I understand the restrictions for safety, but if families can’t visit, they need a point of contact.”


In the spring, when the government struggled to contain the outbreak at long-term care homes, the Progressive Conservative caucus suggested a point of contact for people to get information about their loved one. 


Early Saturday morning NSHA put out a press release to indicate new restrictions on visitation at all hospitals.


“In all honesty, very few people would have seen that notice,” said Houston.


Albert Marshall did not. He left a visit with his wife at the hospital at 8 pm on Friday and had no reason to believe there were any changes in the works to visitation rules.  He and his family were surprised Saturday to hear they would not be allowed back in. 


“It is a very stressful thing when you call the hospital at 6:30 am to check on your loved one and you get news from the nurse that the hospital is closed to visitors,” said Marshall. “It’s very unfair to health care staff to have this dropped on them without warning and have to explain to their patients why no one is coming today.”


Houston says that for families to put a plan in place, they need information, compassion, and a clear system of communications from NSHA authorities. Families can then make plans based on that information.


“The Minister of Health should know that before NSHA flicks the ‘no visitors’ switch, they owe it to Nova Scotians to have a plan in place,” says Houston. “That must include a clear process to communicate with families and keep them at ease.”