Visiting a patient

As of June 29, 2020, Unity Health’s no family/support person (visitor) presence policy is still in effect, with exceptions for ‘Essential Care Partners’ in specific situations only. There is still no access for the public, or for visitors who are not approved by our units and clinical teams as Essential Care Partners.

These guidelines are in effect to limit the amount of people in our hospitals and reduce the potential spread of COVID-19.

Read more about Essential Care Partners who can visit below.


We know having our loved ones near us when we’re in the hospital is comforting and can help us feel better. For this reason, we’re working hard to make sure our patients are able to have a family member or a support person visit.

What is most important is to make sure everyone is kept as safe as possible – our patients, their loved ones, our staff, and our communities. We need to ensure that everything we do balances the benefits of having visitors present, while also ensuring our patients, hospital staff, doctors and communities stay safe.

In the first phase of welcoming back visitors, we are starting by welcoming Essential Care Partners back to Unity Health in specific situations. Please note that Phase One will not apply to everyone.

What is an essential care partner and how do you become one?


An Essential Care Partner is one member of a patient’s family, community, support circle or a friend who will be able to visit the patient while they are staying with us or accompany the patient to an appointment. Essential Care Partners will help the patient with basic care needs, mental health and emotional support, and help us to organize the best quality patient safety and care.

Please note that our phases are not tied to the province’s reopening phases and will look different since they are aligned with internal hospital activities.

In the first phase, we are welcoming Essential Care Partners for patients only in the following situations:

Situation where an Essential Care Partner may be welcome to visit Examples
Patients who are experiencing a life-altering event A patient who is at the end of their life, who is giving birth, undergoing major surgery, has a critical illness or who is experiencing a mental health crisis.
Patients for whom a caregiver is the main advocate in their care A child under the age of 18, or an individual who cannot effectively communicate their needs
Patients who are vulnerable due to a significant cognitive, intellectual or developmental disability Patients with dementia, escalating behaviours or significant communication barriers and are unable to make their own care decisions or they need additional physical/psychological support beyond hospital resources
Patients who are vulnerable as English is not their primary language and they have a significant language barrier Patients who have a significant language barrier as English is not their first language and are unable to effectively communicate with their healthcare team
Patients whose Essential Care Partners are required to support care procedures and appointments A patient who cannot get to an appointment on their own, or for whom the absence of their Essential Care Partner may pose a serious safety risk to other patients

If you are a caregiver and feel you fit the definition of an Essential Care Partner based on the information above you can reach out to the area or clinic where the patient is staying or where they will have their appointment to see if you can visit.

We are working every day to align our procedures based on the spread of COVID-19 in our communities and guidelines from Toronto Public Health and the Ministry of Health. Depending on the virus’ spread, we might need to scale back the amount of visitors, or we may be able to increase the amount of visitors by expanding our criteria for Essential Care Partner visits. Any updates to our procedures will be posted to the site you’re on now.

The patient decides who they would like to request as their Essential Care Partner. This may be a family member, friend, paid caregiver, community support worker or other individual as identified by the patient.

If the patient is unable to identify their own Essential Care Partner, their Substitute Decision Maker (define) can do so for them.

The number of essential care partners a patient can have visit them in hospital or come with them to an appointment will depend on the patient’s current circumstances. Please connect with the unit or clinic directly for more information.

If you feel you meet any one of the situations or examples outlined below, please contact the patient’s care team to request a visit.  
Situation where an Essential Care Partner may be welcome to visit Examples
Patients who are experiencing a life-altering event A patient who is at the end of their life, who is giving birth, undergoing major surgery, has a critical illness or who is experiencing a mental health crisis.
Patients for whom a caregiver is the main advocate in their care A child under the age of 18, or an individual who cannot effectively communicate their needs
Patients who are vulnerable due to a significant cognitive, intellectual or developmental disability Patients with dementia, escalating behaviours or significant communication barriers and are unable to make their own care decisions or they need additional physical/psychological support beyond hospital resources
Patients who are vulnerable as English is not their primary language and they have a significant language barrier Patients who have a significant language barrier as English is not their first language and are unable to effectively communicate with their healthcare team
Patients whose Essential Care Partners are required to support care procedures and appointments A patient who cannot get to an appointment on their own, or for whom the absence of their Essential Care Partner may pose a serious safety risk to other patients

The unit/clinic team caring for your loved one must approve an Essential Care Partner in advance of a hospital visit. Please review the criteria listed on this page and reach directly to the unit/clinic your loved one is on to request a visit as an Essential Care Partner. As mentioned above, we will not be able to support all requests as this decision is based on a number of factors.

Following this process will help us make sure that we:

  • Have enough room in our hospitals to allow patients with critical appointments and treatments to physically distance, reducing any potential exposure to or spread of COVID-19
  • Can continue to increase our clinical services, allowing more patients to safely access our hospitals without increasing risk
  • Are giving our clinical teams the ability to focus on reviewing and approving requests for Essential Care Partners for our patients who need the most support

If you’re approved, your name will be added by the unit or clinic to a list of approved Essential Care Partners for the day of your approved visit.

At the entrance, there is a team of people screening everyone who comes in. They ask each visitor, patient and staff member whether they have symptoms of COVID-19, and a series of other questions. The entrance screening team will ask for your name when you arrive.

Depending on the area you are coming to, you may be asked to come at a scheduled time. We will give you an ID sticker and a mask when you arrive.

Staff on the unit/clinic you are going to will provide you with some of these instructions before you arrive, and some will be discussed once you get to the hospital.

Our hospital is safe for our patients, Essential Care Partners who visit, and staff. We are all working hard to ensure the safety and well-being of our patients and those providing care to them during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the steps we’ve taken include:

● Limiting visitors and the number of people in the hospital
● Checking and screening for symptoms of COVID-19 at entrances
● Using masks and appropriate personal protective equipment
● Putting physical distancing in place

All Essential Care Partners will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms prior to entering. This means that at the door, our staff will ask you a series of questions.

If you pass the screening and enter our hospital, you’ll be asked to wear a mask, clean your hands frequently and maintain a physical distance of 2 metres from others when possible.

When you are visiting, please stay with the patient at all times (at the bedside or at their appointment) and don’t visit other clinical or common areas of the building.

  • At Providence, please use the main doors at 3276 St. Clair Ave. East.
  • At St. Joseph’s, you can use Tranquility, Melnyk, East or Our Lady of Mercy entrances depending on where you are going. Information about when these entrances are open can be found online here.
  • At St. Michael’s, please use the Queen Street entrance at 36 Queen St. East.

Yes, we will provide all Essential Care Partners who meet the examples and criteria outlined above to visit with a mask at the door.

If you have your own mask when you enter the hospital, you can continue to wear it, or, you can take a new mask at the door. If you don’t have your own mask upon entry, you will receive a mask.

If you are visiting a patient who has special instructions for visiting:

  • You will need to wear a mask the unit/clinic team staff provide you on the unit
  • You may be asked to wear other protective equipment – the staff on the unit will provide you with this and show you how to put it on

Please clean your hands before putting on a mask and wear it properly at all times. This tip sheet has more information about how to put on, wear and take off a mask safely.

Our ultimate goal is to allow each of our patients to have an Essential Care Partner who can visit. We know that we’ll have to reach this goal slowly to make sure everyone who enters our doors and everyone in our communities stays safe.

Our cautious approach makes it possible to act quickly depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic changes.

There is currently no timeline for our visitor restrictions – we are taking this slow but steady approach to ensure that everyone in our communities, including staff, patients and visitors, is safe.

Depending on the circumstances and which unit your loved one is being moved to you may not be able to stay with them. The criteria for supporting Essential Care Partners in our inpatient areas is different from our Emergency Departments. The team will assist you in understanding the criteria for different inpatient areas while you are in the Emergency Department with your loved one.

We currently do not support food coming into our hospital sites from outside in order to ensure safety for all staff and patients. If the patient requires belongings please contact our Patient Relations team (contact information is below) and they can arrange to have these items dropped off and delivered to the patient. These restrictions are in place to keep everyone safe.

  • St. Joseph’s: 416-530-6652 or patientrelationsSJHC@unityhealth.to.
  • St. Michael’s: 416-864-5215 or patientrelationsSMH@unityhealth.to
  • Providence: 416-285-3666 ext. 5902 or patientrelationsPHC@unityhealth.to.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are discouraging the practice of having personal items and food brought into the hospital to reduce the opportunity for transmission of the virus. We do recognize there are some essential items that may support and comfort our patients. We have implemented a delivery and transfer policy for certain essential items. The items that will be accepted include:

  • Essential “bedside basics” for patients (i.e. walkers, hearing aids, mobile devices, toiletries, etc.)
  • Food that is culturally required and not provided by our food services

Items must be able to be wiped for disinfecting purposes or be in a bag or container that can be wiped and disinfected upon arrival at the hospital. If you would like to arrange for a delivery or pick-up for an item outlined above, patients or families can coordinate with Patient Relations to arrange deliveries/pick-up. Please contact Patient Relations about a delivery/pick-up before coming to one of our sites. Patient Relations can be contacted at each of our three sites as follows:

Please note: To drop off belongings you will need to pass entrance screening. We cannot accept items from a home under isolation, where there is a COVID-19 positive person or a person under investigation.

If you feel you meet the Essential Care Partner criteria to visit a patient but were told you do not qualify, you can request an appeal by contacting Patient Relations at the site where the patient you’d like to visit is located:

  • St. Joseph’s: 416-530-6652 or patientrelationsSJHC@unityhealth.to.
  • St. Michael’s: 416-864-5215 or patientrelationsSMH@unityhealth.to
  • Providence: 416-285-3666 ext. 4555 or patientrelationsPHC@unityhealth.to.

No, anyone who has COVID-19 or symptoms of the virus cannot visit a patient. They should be self-isolating.

Patients and families can request a device to video call their loved one who doesn’t have their own device. Devices can be borrowed for up to 30 minutes at a time between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

  • Patients – Speak to your care team about how to request a device
  • Families and friends – Submit a video calling request to have a device delivered to a patient for a video call

At Unity Health we recognize family members and loved ones are integral to supporting our patients and residents. Get Well Wishes is an electronic message delivery system which allows family and friends the ability to send a personal message to a loved one who is admitted to one of our three hospital sites or is a resident in long-term care.

To send your best wishes, fill out this web form and we will print and hand deliver your message. This free service is available for patients at all of our sites as well as residents in the Cardinal Ambrozic Houses of Providence.

Our Gift Shops can arrange delivery of care packages with personalized messages to your loved ones who are admitted to St. Joseph’s and St. Michael’s. Please note that the cost will depend on what you choose to include in the gift.

Visit the following websites to learn how you can order a care package:

This service is not available at Providence Healthcare or the Cardinal Ambrozic Houses of Providence at this time.