Visiting hour changes have hospital staff worried

Changes to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital visiting hours allow people to see patients at all hours, but it has staff members concerned about safety and security.

Changes to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital visiting hours allow people to see patients at all hours, but have staff members concerned about safety and security.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority changed the hours in June from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. to unrestricted.  The changes rolled out to to other VIHA facilities after a test period in March at Victoria hospitals.

Staff are concerned about safety and security, and that there wasn’t any consultation.

Jo Taylor, B.C. Nurses Union Pacific Rim chairwoman, said VIHA’s policy doesn’t require it to inform staff or the unions of changes. However, she said the union should have been consulted because it has a direct impact on its members.

“Fundamentally, the nurses would be supportive of the policy if there were some good safety measures in place,” said Taylor.

Mike Old, a spokesman for the Hospital Employee’s Union, said the union wasn’t given advanced notice about the changes, which is concerning. The union represents LPNs, care aids, housekeeping, lab technicians, trades and maintenance workers and security personnel at the hospital.

Concerns include the lack of staff to monitor visitors once they pass through the security gate in the emergency department, theft, security and safety concerns, and nighttime visitors disturbing patients who need rest to recover.

Taylor said unfortunately, conflicts might arise and a policy needs to be in place so staff can handle the situations.

Nurses brought their concerns to the NRGH occupational health and safety group and Taylor said the matter will be discussed at the Pacific Rim BCNU regional meeting at the end of the month.

“Unless some changes are made, we will be seeking the complete removal, but if we could find a collaborative approach, we may be able to keep it with safety measures in place,” said Taylor.

HEU is presenting its concerns at the regional violence-prevention committee meeting.

Anya Nimmon, a VIHA spokeswoman, said concerns will be heard at a meeting next week.

She said the health authority changed visiting hours because research shows friends and family play a vital role in patient care and recovery.  She said staff can still restrict visits due to patients being too ill, if visitors may disrupt other patients, during an outbreak or if the patient doesn’t want visitors.

Prior to the changes visitors were allowed outside regular hours with permission.

“No one has ever been turned away, even prior to this policy, if they ever wanted to see someone whenever they wanted,” said Nimmon. “Clinical providers have the right and the responsibility to act in the best interest of the patient and patient care. Clinical providers can discuss with visitors what is appropriate for the patient and VIHA staff will work with the patient and their family and friends to establish appropriate visitor guidelines.”

VIHA security hasn’t observed an increase in people visitng outside the prior hours, Nimmon said.