The Community Love Wall displayed in Columbia View Lodge’s central area, is an artwork project letting residents know they are not forgotten in this time of isolation and/or restricted visits. (Submitted photo)

Visiting restrictions at senior care home troubling for some

Health authority protocols make it difficult for Trail family to have meaningful visits

Visiting an elderly parent, sibling, or friend in a seniors care home is not as simple as it once was.

For a Trail woman, frustration over visiting rights is growing after her father was admitted to an Interior Health care home earlier this year.

“My mom can only go see my dad once a week for one hour, and that’s it, and they’ve been married for 60 years,” said a local woman, who requested the Times not use her name for fear of reprisal.

“Dr. Henry okayed it for bars and restaurants to open and beaches. People can sit there for one to six hours, but you can only visit in a home for one hour and in their own room.

“It is not fair at all.”

The novel coronavirus attacks the most vulnerable, and thousands of elderly in care homes across the globe have perished as a result.

But for the longtime resident, her family’s visits to see her father have become distressing due to the protocols implemented. She is especially angered that the care home has a large courtyard outside, but isn’t used for visitation purposes.

“I think if a place has an outdoor area where a family member can sit six-feet away there shouldn’t be a problem as long as you don’t touch each other.”

Exercising those protocols can make it difficult for families, and often come at the expense of a meaningful visit and, at times, the physical and mental health of the very seniors they are trying to keep safe.

But the health authority is erring on the side of caution, with its priority to protect seniors, their families, and staff.

As of Aug. 25, 194 of the 203 COVID-related deaths in B.C. were among the population age 60 and over, despite having just 27 per cent of overall cases. At last count, there have been 699 total outbreak cases and 146 resident deaths at 59 health-care-facilities since the pandemic began. Currently there are 10 active outbreaks in care homes in B.C.

“These past few months have been very difficult for people who live in long-term care, and for their families, as there have been very strict visitor restrictions in place,” said Interior Health spokesperson, Susan Duncan. “These restrictions have been necessary to protect our seniors from COVID-19, but we know how hard it has been for every single person and family.”

On June 30, the Provincial Health Officer introduced stricter protocols for senior care visits, restricting them to one person per visit per week. Visitors are also required to wear masks, meet in a previously designated space and sit behind a glass or Plexiglas barrier.

Implementing the protocol may look different from care home to care home, but visits must be booked in advance and anyone showing symptoms for COVID-19 will not be allowed.

“Provincial funding to support the new guidelines is being provided where needed,” said Duncan. “Across Interior Health we are working with all long-term care and assisted living sites to implement the requirements and make it possible for social visits to occur in a safe way.”

“We are pleased to say that our providers have worked to ensure resources are distributed evenly so all residents and families have an opportunity to visit.”

Canada’s Minister of Seniors, Deb Schulte, met virtually with groups in Calgary and Edmonton earlier this month to discuss the pressing needs of seniors in home care.

Schulte said she recently lost her mother-in-law in a long-term care home, and pledged to support families in similar situations.

“(To) make sure that people are connected even though they can’t be physically together, and we are a very physical species,” she told CBC. “And not to be able to hug someone. I can’t tell you how challenging it was for us.”

But, Schulte added, issues in long-term care facilities will take time to sort out.

“It’s balancing that challenge of keeping the residents safe, and not exposing them to the virus,” she said. “I know there’s a tremendous amount of effort in these facilities and some are doing an excellent job of making sure that they’re doing that on a daily basis, opportunities for seniors to either visit with their family members, bringing them outside into little shelters … all centres are doing things a little bit different but the idea is we recognize how serious isolation is in terms of mental health and wellness and how fast people deteriorate if they don’t have those family connections.”

The provincial government committed to providing $160 million to hire up to three staff per care home to ensure the guidelines around visits are being followed, and designated staff are required to screen everybody who comes in on entry.

According to Duncan, Trail’s Columbia View Lodge allows different types of visits to take place, including end of life (palliative), and in-person (social) visits with safety measures in place.

“These visits take place both indoors and outdoors – as well as the continuation of window and virtual visits. Leadership continues to develop options that support expanded social visits based on scheduling and resident needs.”

The provincial and federal health authorities have placed a lot of responsibility in the hands of care-home managers and staff, who independently ensure that strict protocols are maintained. For those with family in long-term and acute care homes, consistency and flexibility would go a long way to making it easier for families to have a meaningful visit.

“My daughter is coming to town and hasn’t seen her grandpa in a year, so she wants to see him, but who wants to visit behind glass doors where you can’t hear him at all?” said the Trail woman. “Why can’t you have him outside, and have volunteers there to make sure they are not touching and visiting six-feet apart, so they can have a proper visit.

“Because we don’t know if we’re going to see him again.”

Duncan says that Interior Health cannot comment on individual residents for privacy reasons, but assures everyone that the safety and comfort of individuals at all our long-term care homes is our top priority.

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