Experts Outline Key Steps for Hospitals to Welcome Back Family Caregivers During COVID-19

Jul 08, 2020

Today, the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement released a new report that outlines key steps and resources for hospitals to welcome back family caregivers. The report, Re-Integration of Family Caregivers as Essential Partners in Care in a Time of COVID-19, was developed with experts from across the country including patient, family and caregiver partners.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many hospitals in Canada closed the door on almost all visitors. This includes family caregivers who are designated by the patient to partner in their care. The important role of family caregivers is grounded in growing evidence that shows their presence benefits care, experience, safety and outcomes.

To help hospitals that are revisiting their policies move forward and reintegrate family caregivers as essential partners in care, CFHI convened a Rapid Response Expert Advisory Group composed of clinicians, healthcare system leaders, hospital CEOs, legal/bioethics experts, public health experts, and patient, family, and caregiver partners from across the country. They reviewed the evidence, considered the pandemic context and identified the following key steps:

  1. Ensure a foundation of patient- and family-partnered care
  2. Revisit policies on family presence with patient, family and caregiver partners at the table
  3. Distinguish between family caregivers who are essential partners in care and visitors
  4. Consider the needs of people who face specific risks without the presence of family caregivers as essential partners in care
  5. Take a comprehensive, balanced approach to assessing risks
  6. Establish a rapid appeal process
  7. Increase the evidence to guide decisions regarding family caregiver presence


Over the last five years, open family presence policies had become common in Canada’s hospitals. In the winter of 2020, a CFHI study showed 73 percent of surveyed hospitals had accommodating visiting policies. By mid-March, the situation changed dramatically in response to COVID-19, and with some specific patient exceptions, none of the hospitals in a follow-up study had accommodating policies.

As leaders and organizations move to adjust blanket visitor restrictions, they can be guided by the report that shares evidence, resources and examples of patient- and family-partnered care that can be applied during a time of COVID-19. Creative and innovative approaches to support essential partners in care include clearly identifying family caregivers with name badges so that their role is clear, infection screening protocols (similar to healthcare staff) and infection control training (such as how to don and doff personal protective equipment).

Since 2010, CFHI has championed partnerships with patients and families to improve quality across the continuum of care. This includes the Better Together campaign and collaborative that supported hospitals across the country to review and improve their family presence policies.

CFHI will host a webinar to discuss the report and family presence policies with members of the advisory group on July 14 at 12.00 p.m. (EDT).


“Family caregivers are essential partners in care – they are key allies for improving quality and safety. Many of us provide medical care, including complex procedures that require familiarity with infection control protocols. Family caregivers are knowledgeable, experienced and highly motivated to protect their loved ones,” said Advisory Group member Maggie Keresteci, Caregiver with lived experience and Executive Director at Canadian Association for Health Services & Policy Research.

“The rapid shift to restrict access was done with the best intent, but extended restrictions also brings risks. We hope this report, and the resources within it, support hospitals and others who are revisiting policies and aiming to enable patient- and family-centred care during the pandemic,” said Jennifer Zelmer, President and CEO of CFHI.

Download the Re-Integration Report

About the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement

The Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement works shoulder-to-shoulder with partners to accelerate the identification, spread and scale of proven healthcare innovations. Together, we’re delivering lasting improvement in patient experience, work life of healthcare providers, value-for-money and the health of everyone in Canada. CFHI is a not-for-profit organization funded by Health Canada. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Health Canada. Visit for more information.

For more information, or to arrange media interviews, please contact:
Ashlee Biggs, Senior Communications Lead
Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement
613-728-2238 / logo