After weeks apart, family reunited with cancer patient as Manitoba loosens hospital visitor restrictions

By | June 5, 2020

A Winnipeg family finally got their wish Friday, when they were allowed to see their terminally ill relative outside the hospital where he’s been alone for weeks.

“We’re just really thankful,” Renato Francisco’s granddaughter Karmina Francisco said.

The Franciscos spoke out last week about the pain and stress of not being allowed to be by Renato’s bedside. He’s currently in Victoria Hospital in Winnipeg with terminal cancer.

On Wednesday, Manitoba announced it would start loosening restrictions on hospital visits this week. The restrictions were imposed in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The new rules allow acute care patients one designated visitor in hospital, while also allowing extra visitors for women in labour, children, and palliative patients.

Karmina’s dad was granted a visit with his father Friday morning in the Victoria Hospital garden. 

The family also got the chance to see him from a distance, in the hospital’s parking lot.

“They brought my grandpa down in the wheelchair,” Karmina said, where her mom and two aunts were able to see him and say hello.

“It really means a lot for us, and also for the other families who are looking to visit their loved ones too.”

The Francisco family was able to see Renato Francisco, right, on Friday outside Victoria Hospital, as Manitoba loosened hospital visitor restrictions. (Provided: Francisco family)

Prairies could be example for Canada

Saskatchewan also announced this week it’s opening up visits for patients in ICU and critical care units.

The Prairies could be an example for the rest of Canada, said Cynthia Carr, a Winnipeg-based epidemiologist.

Even provinces with higher COVID-19 rates could consider opening some of their hospitals to visitors, if evidence from Manitoba and Saskatchewan’s openings shows it can be done safely.

“We already know, very sadly, where the primary risk is, and it’s in the long-term care facilities. It’s not within the [hospitals],” she said.

“Even if there are many, many cases in a province, if they’re mostly at the long-term care facility, we can look at opportunities at the acute care facilities. It could be we start looking at rural facilities,” she said.

Some experts have said that although the blanket visitor restrictions were brought in with the best intentions, the rules ended up causing emotional and physical harm.

Jan Byrd, a patient safety policy expert in Winnipeg, said family members play a big role in keeping patients safe and healthy. 

Loved ones can help catch medication mistakes, for example, or prevent falls. Family members also help patients remember what the doctors tell them, and can advocate for them when they’re too ill or tired to speak for themselves.

Byrd said her organization, the Canadian Patient Safety Institute, has heard “heartbreaking” stories from families across the country about the emotional and mental impacts the visitor restrictions have had. 

“People are looking to us to understand what happened, how did these policies begin to change, and how were people bringing in the voices of patients, families, and caregivers,” Bird said.

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