Family presence in Canadian PICUs during the COVID-19 pandemic: a mixed-methods environmental scan of policy and practice

CMAJ Open. 2022 Jul 5;10(3):E622-E632. doi: 10.9778/cmajo.20210202. Print 2022 Jul-Sep.


Background: Despite their broad commitment to family-centred care, children's hospitals and associated pediatric intensive care units (PICUs) restricted family presence during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study aimed to describe family presence policies and practices in Canadian PICUs from March to May 2020, and their evolution by August to December 2020.

Methods: We conducted an environmental scan of family presence policies and restrictions in all 19 Canadian PICUs using 2 methods. We conducted a literature review of public-facing visitation policy documents in June 2020 using a standardized data extraction form. We also administered a cross-sectional survey of PICU leadership (managers and physician chiefs) between August and December 2020 by telephone or videoconferencing. We used inductive content analysis to code qualitative data, generating summative count data. We analyzed quantitative data descriptively.

Results: As part of the literature search, we collected 2 (12%) PICU-specific, 14 (82%) pediatric-specific and 1 (6%) hospital-wide visitation policy documents from the early pandemic. One policy document provided guidance on all of the policy elements sought; the number of enabled caregivers was not included in the documents for 7 of 19 units (37%). All 19 Canadian PICUs were represented among the 24 survey respondents (15 physician chiefs and 9 operations or clinical managers). Before the COVID-19 pandemic, all units allowed the presence of 2 or more family members. Early in the pandemic, reported practices limited the number of adult caregivers for patients without SARS-CoV-2 infection to 1 (n = 21/24, 88%) or 2 (n = 3/24, 12%); all units prohibited siblings. Some centres restricted caregivers from switching bedside presence with one another (patients without SARS-CoV-2 infection: n = 16/23, 70%; patients with confirmed or suspected SARS-CoV-2 infection: n = 20/23, 87%); leaving their child's PICU room (patients without SARS-CoV-2 infection: n = 1/24, 4%; patients with confirmed or suspected SARS-CoV-2 infection: n = 16/24, 67%); and joining in-person rounds (patients without SARS-CoV-2 infection: n = 9/22, 41%; patients with confirmed or suspected SARS-CoV-2 infection: n = 17/22, 77%). All respondents endorsed policy exceptions during end-of-life care. Some reported policies and practices were adapted over the study period.

Interpretation: Early COVID-19-related family presence policies in Canadian PICUs varied among centres. Although some centres adapted policies and practices, this study revealed ongoing potential threats to family centred care at the mid-pandemic stage.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units, Pediatric
  • Pandemics
  • Policy
  • SARS-CoV-2