This past week, the BC government announced changes to its policy for essential visitors to hospitals and long-term care homes to make it clear that people with disabilities still need access to vital supports.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix acknowledged that many disabled people have been afraid to access health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, when only essential visitors have been allowed in hospitals and long-term care.
He said the province has now amended the visitor policy to make sure health-care providers give special consideration to designated representatives who help people with disabilities eat, communicate, get around and make decisions.
The changes come after outcry from disabled people and advocates about the death of 40-year-old Ariis Knight at Peace Arch Hospital. Knight, who had cerebral palsy, died of a respiratory illness on April 18, a few days after she was transferred to the hospital from the group home in South Surrey where she had lived for a decade.
Knight could not speak and depended on caregivers and family members to communicate. Because of visitor restrictions, none of Knight's caregivers or family members were allowed to be with her in the hospital, and she died alone.
People with disabilities have said they're afraid to go to the hospital because they worry about whether their support people will be allowed inside with them.
Hopefully, this change in policy will help enable greater awareness over illnesses that require medical attention.
Inclusion BC provided some further guidance on the policy change. See below -
How you can help
With any large system, new policies can take time to reach the front lines, but you can help ensure it is applied fairly in your community.
- Use the link "Essential Visits - Template Letter to Hospitals" to ensure local Medical Health Officers and hospitals that serve people with intellectual disabilities in your community know about the new policy and to offer your expertise as a community service agency with implementation, communication and troubleshooting.
- Share some helpful tips we’ve compiled with the individuals and families you support so they can take proactive steps to avoid problems. See: Inclusion BC: #NotJustAVisitor Policy & Tips
- Read and share Public Health Canada’s new national guide on protecting rights and safety of people with disabilities in #COVID19, developed with input from Minister Carla Qualtrough’s new federal COVID Disability Advisory Committee. See: COVID-19 and people with disabilities in Canada
If further help is needed, individuals and families can contact our advocacy line for support.
- Inclusion BC Advocacy line: toll-free 1-844-488-4321
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If there are difficulties with interpretation and implementation of the revised policy, you can also consider asking the Provincial Health Officer to advise the hospital:
Office of the Provincial Health Officer
Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer
Dr. Danièle Behn Smith, Aboriginal Health Physician Advisor