Emergency Department Visits and Acute Care Stays

A visit to an Emergency Department can be a long, boring, and tedious ordeal. Whether you arrive by car or ambulance, it’s probably going to be stressful. If your loved one is admitted, they might be put in a medical care or acute care ward, depending on their diagnosis.

Below are a few things you can do to organize yourself and to be more comfortable for a short or longer stay at hospital.

  • A Vial of Life: Keep a Vial of Life in your refrigerator and one in the glove compartment of your car so first responders can access life-saving information quickly.  The template for information in your Vial can be printed from here.  If a new medication has been prescribed or if the frequency or dosage has changed, get the pharmacist to print out an updated list to include in your vial.
  • A pre-packed bag: Have a pre-packed  suitcase or backpack ready for your loved one so you can ‘grab-and-go’ in case of emergency. You can include a change of clothes, a book or magazine, earplugs, sunglasses (lighting can be harsh), a bottle of water, coins for vending machines, a small jar of lotion for dry skin and lip balm for dry/chapped lips.  Include an old pair of glasses if possible and remember to bring the hearing aids if your loved one uses them.  Have a bag packed for yourself, too.  It’s important for you to be comfortable and prepared for the unexpected.
  • Don't forget the meds: All medication should be taken to the Emergency Department. If meds are kept in one area, they can be swept into a bag easily and quickly. If some are in the refrigerator they should be kept together too. If you can’t find all of the medication, take the Vial of Life from the refrigerator if it is up-to-date.
  • A Personal Directive: Bring your loved one’s Personal Directive.  Even if they’re conscious and can answer questions when you get to the hospital, their condition could change and their Substitute Decision Maker will have to step in.
  • Advocate on your loved one's behalf:  If your loved one has difficulty thinking, understanding or speaking for themselves, explain this when you register. For instance: “My mother has dementia and answers ‘yes’ to everything. I can provide most of the information you need.”  If your loved one has a condition that will make a long wait in a noisy waiting room difficult for them or those around you, explain that as well. For example: “My brother is on the autism spectrum and his anxiety is triggered by bright lights and noise. Could we wait in a quiet room by ourselves please?”
  • An ID bracelet:  If your loved one needs medical attention and can’t speak for themselves, it might be a good idea to have them wear an ID bracelet to help healthcare workers contact you. One example of an ID bracelet can be found on the Home Care and Other Services page of the CNS website. From this page, click on your region at the right, and then search under Personal Safety/Assisted Living Products/Home Medical Equipment.

Having the right information and knowing what to expect is essential when your loved one is being released from hospital. This article on Discharge Planning may help you prepare for that conversation. Treated and Discharged: How to Avoid Repeat Hospital Visits may also be of help.

If hospital staff haven’t talked to you yet about discharge planning, and if home care is needed but hasn’t been set up, ask for a meeting with a social worker or discharge planner to get the ball rolling.

Transition of Care From Hospital to Home will help you get organized before your loved one leaves for home. If you have to create a ground floor bedroom for your loved one while they recover, When the Living Room Becomes the Bedroom may be helpful.  Also, take a look at our Where to Begin guide to figure out what tasks you need to do and what you can ask a helper do.