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Patient-initiated research

Impact of visitor restrictions in long-term care facilities during pandemic


By Melissa Ennis

In 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NL SUPPORT Patient and Public Advisory Council members asked a question.

What impact are visitor restrictions having on residents in long-term care facilities in Newfoundland and Labrador?

Four people stand side by side, smiling.
From left are Robert Wilson, Cris Carter, Rosemary Lester and Bev Morgan.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Three and half years on, NL SUPPORT has released a research report outlining the findings of its first patient-initiated research project coinciding with Seniors’ Month, which takes place in June.

NL SUPPORT, a unit dedicated to advancing patient-oriented research in Newfoundland and Labrador, is housed in Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine.

Titled Through the Looking Glass: The Impact of COVID-19 Isolation on Long-Term Care Facility Residents – A Visitor’s Perspective, the report outlines five recommendations the project team hopes policy-makers will consider in developing long-term care policies and pandemic preparedness plans.

Importance of social connection

When the pandemic enforced tight restrictions and, at times, complete removal of visitors in long-term care facilities, the prolonged social isolation raised concerns for residents’ mental and physical health and overall well-being.

The research project focused on completing and analyzing a survey of visitors of residents in long-term care facilities in the province’s eastern and western health zones during the pandemic.

Two major themes arose from survey respondents when given the opportunity to share their thoughts and stories.

First, visitors identified the importance of social connection as a key focus area for decision-makers to consider when creating or amending policies that affect quality of life.

Second, visitors expressed negative feelings about provincial policies regarding restrictions in long-term care facilities and underscored the need to weigh the harms and benefits of those restrictions carefully.

“I am delighted that NL SUPPORT was able to support patient and public partners in taking this project forward, as the experiences of visitors and family members of residents needed to be told,” said Dr. Brendan Barrett, principal investigator of NL SUPPORT and a professor of medicine nephrology in the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University. “This work highlights important lessons learned, as well as the vital insights patient and public partners can provide to health care research and evaluation.”

Patient-initiated project

Working with staff, the Patient and Public Advisory Council provides advice and guidance on NL SUPPORT’s work in determining patient-oriented research priorities, the engagement of patients in research projects and planned public outreach activities.

“Engagement of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in creating change is essential.” — Rosemary Lester and Cris Carter

This was the unit’s first patient-initiated project, meaning patient and public partners led the research.

Rosemary Lester and Cris Carter, patient and public partners who led the project, say long-term care residents’ experience during COVID-19 lockdowns highlights the important role that visits play in a resident’s quality of life and the need for a more resident-centred approach.

“We have had many rewarding challenges working for the first time with an experienced research team, and there is much we hope to share with patients eager to get involved in our health-care system and policy-making at the ground level,” they said. “Engagement of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in creating change is essential.”


The research team wishes to acknowledge Memorial’s Quick Start Fund for Public Engagement for supporting the research.

NL SUPPORT works to improve patient outcomes in the province by supporting research that directly impacts patients’ lives by making them research partners.

Learn more at the NL SUPPORT website.

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