Visitors not Welcome: Hospital Visitation Restrictions and Institutional Betrayal

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Healthcare organizations’ continued restrictions on hospital visitation during the COVID-19 pandemic can be considered a violation of the rights of hospitalized patients to receive family visitors. Despite expert opinion related to the safety of visitation and low risk of visitor transmission with appropriate monitoring and precautions, hospital visitation restrictions have continued beyond the initial crisis phase of the pandemic, with little transparency or inclusion of key stakeholders in the decision-making process. Particularly on critical care units, blocking access to family visitors can contribute to additional harm and trauma for care-dependent hospitalized patients and their families. Utilizing an institutional betrayal framework, the aim of this commentary on hospital ICU visitation policy is to provide a discussion of how hospitals who serve a care-dependent population have placed critically ill patients, families, and healthcare workers at risk for complex trauma. Hospital social workers should incorporate an integrated social work approach to advocacy efforts which address not only individual hospitalized patient service needs, but also the uneven power differential that can contribute to inequity in visitation, medical mistrust, and long-term community trauma. On the interprofessional ICU team, social workers can function as trauma informed systems experts, coordinating and facilitating supports to help patients and families cope with hospitalization, while also advocating within their institution and with elected officials for policy change to protect patient and family–centered visitation rights.


Conceptual Paper, Published: 12 September 2022.