A researcher from Western University’s Brescia University College in London, Ontario, co-leads a two-year investigation into the impacts of visitor restrictions on children in intensive care, yet another traumatic outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic. How do these restrictions to pediatric intensive care units impact the children as well as the parents? Led by Professor Jamie Seabrook in collaboration with Dalhousie University, University of Calgary and Alberta’s Children Hospital-based researchers, the study will use interviews, focus groups and surveys to better understand how these restrictions impact ill children and their families and healthcare givers.
Funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the research emphasizes data that needs to be collected, analyzed and better understood to potentially support “family presence policies.”
Family presence is essential to family-centered care in PICUs, where children have a high risk of death and disability. PICUs generally value and promote family presence. However, to curb the spread of COVID-19, policies were implemented that restricted family presence in PICUs. “I can’t imagine the fear of families whose children need intensive care. They are under incredible stress that is usually improved only by being with their child, able to touch them and participating in their care,”says IWK’s Dr. Jennifer Foster, lead investigator.
The study involves parent partners, such as Martha Walls, who commented recently, “It is terrifying to have a critically ill child – to see them suffer, to worry about losing that child, and to be in a place that is so unfamiliar and where something is constantly beeping, often signalling that something is wrong,” says Walls. “In our experience as parents, one of the most important ways of coping with the great stress of the PICU to have family support.”
What’s the Goal of this Research?
Foster and her research team aim to develop evidence-based guidelines for consistent implementation of family presence in PICUs across Canada, in any context.
Laurie Lee with the University of Calgary, a co-lead investigator, shared, “The pandemic was a time when restrictions to family presence had to be implemented quickly to try to minimize the risk of the healthcare system collapsing.” She continued, “But now we have the opportunity to use these restrictions as a case study in what happens when family presence—usually highly promoted and supported in a PICU context—is significantly restricted.”
Core Research Centers
A number of centers are involved, including IWK Health, a leading health and research center operating in Canada’s Maritime region where the focus is the well-being of women, children, youth, and families. The IWK is positioned as a global leader in research and knowledge sharing, as well as partner in educating the next generation of health professionals. While Brescia University College, a women’s college, is affiliated with Western University. 1,600 women are registered as full-or part-time students focusing on a wide variety of subjects from the School of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Food & Nutrition Sciences to Humanities.