Skip to content

Essential Care Partners

Share This Page

holding hands

An Essential Care Partner (ECP) is someone who is considered essential to the well-being of a patient while they are in the hospital. Unlike a visitor or a paid support worker, they provide emotional, cognitive and/or physical care to their loved ones and function as a care team member. They are often family or close friends who know the patient’s health history, lifestyle and personal values.

Having a familiar person available to patients who can provide different types of support can help improve their health outcomes. Some of the ways ECPs participate in patient care include:

  • Supporting patient decision making.
  • Providing emotional and cognitive support.
  • Being a part of planning the patient’s care while they are in the hospital and once they are discharged.
  • Helping patients use technology to connect with loved ones.
  • Assisting patients in eating, moving around, bathing and communicating as needed.
  • Participating in patient and family education.
  • Letting the care team know when they see a change in the patient.

The Difference between Visitors and Essential Care Partners

A visitor is someone who has an existing relationship with a patient but has not been identified as the patient’s Essential Care Partner. The intent of their visit is most often social in nature and not part of the patient’s healthcare. They have not provided an ongoing commitment of their time to support the patient during their stay, and their time at the hospital is typically brief.

An Essential Care Partner is a pre-approved person (often a loved one or someone familiar to the patient) who has been deemed essential to the well-being of the patient and becomes part of the care team while the patient is in hospital. See more information.


Patients are eligible for an Essential Care Partner if they are admitted into an inpatient bed for longer than seven days or have preplanned surgeries. Patients in the Emergency Department are not eligible to have an ECP, but may be eligible to bring a Support Person with them.

Some examples where an ECP is helpful:

  • Life-altering events (i.e. if the absence of a certain visitor could result in long-term health effects, emotional or psychological).
  • Vulnerable patients who may be unable to communicate effectively or who are suffering from cognitive impairment.
  • Patients who require a caregiver to prevent physical hardship or support for transitions in care.

If you or a loved one is eligible for having or becoming an Essential Care Partner, talk to your/your loved ones’ care team about the program to see if it can be a good fit and for details on applying. Essential Care Partners are not always required, and not every patient will want or need one.

What to Expect from the Essential Care Partner Program

  • Your Niagara Health care team will proactively identify patients that are eligible and would benefit from having an ECP. You can also ask your care team if you think an ECP would help you or your loved one. Our team will support the process by supporting the patient or their Substitute Decision Maker in choosing an Essential Care Partner.
  • Completing all paperwork and contacting potential ECPs to describe the program, confirm their availability and outline program expectations.
  • Providing orientation and training for ECPs on all hospital infection prevention and control guidelines to keep the hospital a safe environment for everyone.

Essential Care Partners will need to complete all training and orientation before joining the care team.

If you have questions

Speak with your care team directly or call our Switchboard to talk with the Essential Care Partners Program at 905-378-4647 x 44427

Niagara Health