By Christa Haanstra, Executive Lead, Strategic Communications
Over the course of our 2015-2020 strategic plan, Out of the Shadows and Into the Circle, we focused on improving the caregiver experience in Ontario’s healthcare system. We, along with many partners, worked hard over that time to ensure that caregivers are treated as a respected partner in care. We saw a lot of progress.
However, once COVID-19 hit, we saw, by necessity and due to the rapidly evolving pandemic, a step taken backwards in the inclusion of caregivers as part of the care team.
In June, the government announced that it was easing restrictions. As a result, attention is now being put on reintegration. Part and parcel of this work is finding a way to easily identify family caregivers and treating them as distinct from visitors.
One of the innovations that came out of The Change Foundations’ work with the Changing CARE teams was the caregiver identification program (Caregiver ID) – a simple concept that can have a big impact on caregivers and is now more timely than ever.
The program has already been implemented in various healthcare organizations over the past couple of years, and has proven pivotal in the integration of caregivers as essential healthcare partners. In some cases it was also used as a key implementation tool for family presence policies.
One of the program’s biggest strengths: it is adaptable to many environments and situations.
The Caregiver ID is being used to welcome caregivers back, as a visual way to assure staff and patients that people they see in the facility have been screened and are permitted to be there.
Caregiver ID includes a visual icon, provider training to support culture change and implementation tools. The Caregiver ID is a badge, sticker or card used to facilitate the participation of family care partners in the clinical setting. But the card is just the tip of the iceberg. Healthcare organizations can extend the identification program by asking the patient identifying who their caregiver(s) is, documenting the caregiver name and contact information in the patient chart, giving the caregiver an ID card and including the caregiver in care and discharge conversations and planning.
At the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance (HPHA), one of our Changing CARE partners, Caregiver ID was put in place as soon as the COVID-19 visitor restrictions were put into place.
The highly visual tool made the process of welcoming essential family caregivers much smoother at a time of such chaos and uncertainty.
“The culture of family caregivers as partners is firmly embedded at HPHA. Since 2015, we have been working with caregivers to co-design the way that HPHA and our partners welcome caregivers as partners in care,” explains Anne Campbell, VP, Clinical Services at HPHA. “When COVID-19 hit, you can’t revert back. It was a chaotic time, but we knew we had to maintain our commitment to patient-centred care.”
And as Michelle Jones, Corporate Lead of Patient Experience at HPHA, explains, “We changed our policy to reflect the reality of the pandemic. We defined essential family caregivers, and ensured that patients who were palliative, patients who would be at risk if they were alone, mothers giving birth, or other patients who needed a family member for compassionate reasons, were able to have a family member with them.”
This type of nimbleness and commitment to caregiver engagement is what helped HPHA keep caregiver involved when COVID-19 hit, and it’s what will help caregivers be reintegrated into healthcare organizations as things open-up.
The Change Foundation has been working with the Ontario Caregiver Organization and the Ontario Hospital Association to develop tools, resources and supports to make it easier to reintroduce family caregivers into healthcare organizations.
This collaboration with the Ontario Caregiver Organization is timely, as the Foundation wraps up our incubation work.
- Ontario Caregiver Organization toolkit: Partners in Care
- Ontario Hospital Association resource collection: Care Partner Presence During COVID
- The Change Foundation
- Caregiver ID resources: The Caregiver Identification (ID) Program and Family Presence Policy
- Report: Family Presence and Opening Visiting Policies in Ontario Hospitals
- e-Learning: Caregivers As Partners
- Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance: A featured case example – Caregivers As Partners
- Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement: Re-Integration of Family Caregivers as Essential Partners in Care in a Time of COVID-19
- Planetree International: Person-Centered Guidelines for Preserving Family Presence in Challenging Times
Benefits to the healthcare organizations:
- Highly visual way to see that the caregiver has made arrangements to see their family member.
- More easily recognize caregivers even though they are wearing a mask (and/or other PPE), especially through rotating staff, shift changes, and because different family caregivers may come at different times.
- Reassures staff, physicians and patients that the caregiver has been screened, has received training on proper use of personal protective equipment and is permitted in the building.
- Helps distinguish family caregivers from patients, residents or visitors.
- Facilitates the active partnership with family caregivers in healthcare situations and decision making.
- Assists with managing physical distancing.
- Can have added benefits, such as giving caregivers secure access to the patient unit after hours, if the organization’s processes allow for caregivers to be issued passes for secured areas.
Benefits to the Caregivers:
Providing caregivers with an ID badge at the door may help the caregiver feel more welcome and mitigate feelings of unease about re-engaging and actively partnering in the care of their family members (patients/residents).
- Re-assure caregivers that staff know they have permission to be in the building.
- Provide formal recognition of the caregiver’s role.
- Clearly identify caregivers throughout the building (and facilitate redirecting of caregivers if they get lost).
- Give caregivers confidence to ask questions and be active partners in care.
- Show staff and other patients that the caregiver has received permission, and any appropriate training, to allow them to be in that location.