London hospitals urged to offer accommodations for out-of-town caregivers

·3 min read

A Grand Bend man who travels to London to bring his wife to medical appointments is raising concerns about a lack of places to wait under strict no-visitor policies at local hospitals.

It’s a problem that could get worse as the lockdown plans to close businesses and restaurants, cutting off places to wait or even use the washroom.

“When COVID struck, caregivers weren’t allowed into the hospital. They had to drop the patient off and wait in the parking lot,” said Doug Bonesteel, who cares for his wife, Pattie. “Initially when caregivers were denied in the spring, there were no facilities to go to (due to lockdowns).”

Every few months, Bonesteel drives his wife more than an hour to the Regional Cancer Centre at London Health Sciences Centre.

She was diagnosed with ovarian and peritoneal cancer in 2017. She’s since recovered, but still has regular appointments with her oncologist.

During appointments, which can be a few hours long, Bonesteel waits in his car in the hospital parking lot.

He’s been pushing LHSC for months to consider providing some relief for out-of-town caregivers.

“There are municipal facilities that are closed. You have a hotel behind the hospital property. Surely, you could get some sort of accommodation,” Bonesteel said. “Just provide some type of shelter for your out-of-town caregivers for the time they are here. . . . It’s not rocket science, but it has fallen on deaf ears.”

Bonesteel said he and his wife have no complaints about their quality of care and are simply advocating for a situation he knows others also face.

Bonesteel said he has friends who are going through similar experiences and worries about what they’ll do in the cold winter months with few businesses or washrooms available due to the provincewide lockdown

“A friend is 75 and diabetic. I can’t see him sitting out in January in a car,” he said.

LHSC announced tighter visitor policies at all of its sites, which come into effect Boxing Day with the provincewide lockdown.

“While it is imperative that we implement stricter measures in order to maintain a safe environment for patients, families, and staff, we also recognize the impact of isolation for patients and families during this difficult time and are doing everything we can to help patients and loved ones stay connected,” a statement reads.

Asked if any accommodations could be provided for out-of-town caregivers, hospital spokesperson Mandy Gelinas said they “acknowledge the unique challenge the lockdown restrictions will present for non-essential care partners of outpatients,” especially those travelling from far away.

“We would encourage everyone . . . to consider exploring which businesses, community-based resource centres, and outdoor activities will be open in the city in advance of their visit, as this information is frequently changing,” Gelinas wrote in an email.

A commentary published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal Dec. 18 makes a case for relaxing no-visitor policies during the pandemic.

Toronto doctors Laveena Munshi, Gerald Evans and Fahad Razak write that caregivers are important for “patient advocacy, feeding, mobility, orientation, emotional support in settings of delirium, cognitive impairment, language barriers, end-of-life care, labour and delivery, and transitions to critical care.

“We believe that restrictive visitor policies may do more harm than good in specific settings, and there are specific circumstances where hospital visitation policies should be relaxed with careful use of PPE and monitoring, paying careful attention to community prevalence of COVID-19 and community immunization status in the future.”

Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press