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Ensuring Access to Support Persons in Healthcare

Currently, there are still no AODA healthcare standards. However, an AODA standards development committee drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA healthcare standards should include. These guidelines include ensuring access to support persons in healthcare.

The committee’s mandate from the Ontario government requires recommendations focused on the hospital setting. However, patients and healthcare workers with disabilities also face barriers in other parts of the healthcare system, including:

  • Doctors’ offices
  • Walk-in clinics
  • Wellness centres
  • Pharmacies
  • Labs
  • Nursing homes
  • Outpatient rehabilitation centres
  • Health regulatory colleges

Therefore, all these settings should ensure access to support persons.

Ensuring Access to Support Persons in Healthcare

Some patients may need support persons while in hospital, to accomplish non-medical tasks, such as:

  • Communication
  • Making decisions
  • Travelling to or within the hospital
  • Transferring from assistive devices to medical equipment, such as examination tables
  • Activities of daily living

A support person can be a paid personal support worker (PSW), a volunteer, a family member, or a friend. PSWs are trained professionals. Family or friends usually do not have formal training, but they often have years of experience. People often have different support persons at different times. While some patients need support for brief hospital visits, others need ongoing support for longer stays.

Policies for Access to Support Persons

The committee recommends policies and procedures to ensure that patients always have access to the non-medical supports they need. Moreover, these policies should recognize that patients with disabilities make independent decisions about how and when they should receive support, and direct their support persons.

Staff should ask all patients whether they require any support, and document this accommodation need on patients’ care plans. As a result, staff will know how any needed support should be provided, and implement support according to the plan.

Implementing Access to Support Persons

For instance, some patients may use support services daily in their every-day lives, such as attendant care. Patients may wish to receive support from the same person or agency during a hospital stay. As a result, these patients’ care plans should state that they receive support from a third-party service, or from a loved one. Alternatively, patients may receive support from a different person or agency while in hospital. In either case, hospital staff must always allow patients to access their support persons. Moreover, patients’ support persons must follow hospital rules about patient confidentiality.

In contrast, some patients may not receive support in their daily lives, but may require support during a hospital stay. For instance, a patient who is blind may travel independently, but may need some sighted guide from hospital staff. These patients’ care plans should note that they require this support. Furthermore, hospital staff should have training that prepares them to guide patients.

Each patient with a disability should decide whether or not to share confidential information with their support person. For instance, one patient may allow their support person in the room while their doctor gives their diagnosis. On the other hand, another patient may prefer to have the support person wait outside. Hospital policies and practices should recognize that each patient can make their own choices about how they receive support.

These policies and procedures allow healthcare providers and non-medical support persons to work together in providing safe and confidential care.