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March for Dignity hopes to send message to hospital

A group of essential caregivers are calling on the North Bay Regional Health Centre to change its inpatient visitor rules.

“It’s killing people more than COVID is,” said Diane Demers, the organizer for the March for Dignity who is the primary caregiver for her husband who suffers from dementia.

A march featuring numerous primary caregivers for patients suffering from cognitive disabilities was held on Wednesday morning at the hospital to protest the health centre’s policy on visitors.

On June 25th, the hospital made changes to its visitor policy allowing one designated caregiver as well as a dedicated alternate caregiver to visit their patient once a day between the hours of 11 am to 1 pm or 5 pm to 8 pm.

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The hospital also allows visitors to patients who are under 18, or suffer cognitive impairment, significant developmental and/or intellectual disability, or are unable to effectively communicate, which do not require them to follow the designated visitor guidelines.

However, Demers says that primary caregivers have been denied access to their loved ones despite the caveat allowing them to avoid the designated times. She says fellow caregivers have been told to adhere to the visiting hours.

“Sick people aren’t on a schedule. They may need you in the evening one day, the next it might be in the morning,” Demers said during the march.

Demers says that primary caregivers should be allowed free access to their patients because of their intimate understanding of the situation.

“A lot of the problem with dementia patients is that they don’t react to pain the way you and I do. They either don’t react to pain or a little hangnail could drive them crazy,” Demers explained.

“I can tell by [my husband’s] face if he’s in pain. I can tell by his movements if something is bothering him. I can sit there and help him relax if he’s getting too anxious.”

The hospital issued a statement on the March for Dignity:

“We know how important families and loved ones are to patients while they are receiving care in our facility, and our direction for visiting does make a distinction for vulnerable patients. Due to the unpredictability of the pandemic, the health centre will move between levels of access based on a variety of factors including organizational capacity and the local, regional and provincial COVID-19 activity.”
The health centre says that it screens “upwards of 1000 people a day” into the building between all of the hospital’s departments.

“Unfortunately there has been a misconception that if a patient has one or all of the criteria listed they are automatically deemed ‘vulnerable.’ In fact, the determination of ‘vulnerable’ is a clinical decision made by the care team. As we are now officially in the second wave of COVID-19, limiting access to the hospital is a necessary step to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 and ensure the safety of our patients and the health care workers caring for them,” the statement said.

Demers says that she has written to “every board member” about the contradicting visiting rules. She says the responses she’s received have not yielded any promise for action on the issue.

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