Visitor restrictions keep our most vulnerable patients safe

Dr. Teresa Bruni, Medical Director of the Women and Children Program at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre implemented enhanced visitation guidelines and restrictions in order to protect the health and safety of all staff, professional staff, patients and the community. Hosting care partners in Labour and Delivery or visitors in the Maternal Newborn department presents a unique set of challenges since newborn babies are particularly susceptible to infection. Although visitor restrictions can be difficult, they are necessary to protect our most vulnerable patients.

For the safety of all, current guidelines dictate that one support person may remain with a laboring mother for the duration of labour and birth and may remain for up to 6 hours post-partum, provided they pass the Hospital’s entrance screening for COVID-19.

“We take the health and safety of newborn babies very seriously,” said Dr. Teresa Bruni, Medical Director of the Hospital’s Women and Children’s Program. “Our current visitor restrictions present a rather stark change from what people are used to prior to COVID-19, and that can attribute to heightened fears and anxieties. We know this is difficult and we sympathize with those who are feeling uneasy. However, the risks and benefits have been carefully weighed and we feel that under the current circumstances, this is the best way to maintain a safe environment for all new parents, babies, and staff at our Hospital.”

While hospitals across Ontario have enhanced visitor restrictions and guidelines in response to COVID-19, all are in agreement that a mother has support during her labour and birth. The amount of time after birth that the support person can remain is what varies from hospital to hospital and is based on key factors such as space to maintain physical distancing, the availability of personal protective equipment, and the ability to ensure all patients and care partners remain compliant with the necessary infection control measures.

“The last thing we want is an outbreak on our Maternal Newborn unit,” said Dr. Bruni. “Unfortunately, allowing care partners to stay without restrictions makes it impossible to ensure appropriate physical distancing, especially in semi-private rooms or ward rooms. We must protect our most vulnerable patients as well as our staff who are critical to the delivery of our services. Too many bodies in one area simply causes too much risk to all involved,” said Dr. Bruni.

While some Level 1 birthing centres can allow care partners to stay with the new mother until discharge, most Level 2 birthing centres (like our Hospital) have similar or even stricter guidelines, with some hospitals requiring the care partner to leave 2 hours post-partum. Our Hospital’s guidelines are consistent with recommendations of the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, and the Provincial Council for Maternal Child Health.

“Although not ideal, most families are understanding of the difficult and unprecedented new reality brought on by COVID-19, and appreciate our efforts to keep everyone safe. In fact, many new mothers have actually expressed gratitude for being able to quietly bond with their newborn in the Hospital,” said Dr. Bruni. “For those who are nervous, hopefully they can take comfort in knowing that our compassionate and dedicated staff are here to support and care for new mothers and babies in the absence of their care partners. Not only is it what we are trained for, but it’s what we love to do.”

The Hospital also offers virtual visitation options to help patients and families stay connected.

To learn more about visitor restrictions at our Hospital and in the Women and Children’s program, please visit