Families ‘so relieved’ visits will resume in B.C. long-term care homes

Brenda Brophy of Victoria, B.C., says the first thing she’ll do when she gets to see her 100-year-old mother in long-term care is play a game of crib. 

“I just want to see my sweet little mom … She’s been playing [crib] since she was nine years old,” Brophy said. “I hope she can still beat me.”

Brophy has only seen her mother once — for a 45-minute visit — in the past four months, after long-term care facilities were heavily restricted to visitors due to COVID-19. 

On Tuesday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that families would be able to visit their loved ones in long-term care again in person under some strict regulations. 

These include, among others:

  • The facility cannot be in an outbreak (there are currently five in B.C.).
  • There must be designated screening staff.
  • Visits can take place indoors or outdoors, or in a specified meeting room.
  • Visitors must wear masks, and will be screened for signs of illness before entering the facility.
  • Visits must be booked in advance.

Watch Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about her decision to lift restrictions on visits in long-term care:

B.C.’s provincial health officer says the risk of COVID-19 is low enough to ease restrictions for the first time in three months. 2:18

Isobel Mackenzie, B.C.’s advocate for seniors, said families shed tears of relief after hearing the announcement. 

“We’ve all sacrificed, but the sacrifices by seniors in long-term care and their loved ones for four months has been one of the more onerous burdens to bear,” she said. “It’s a first step and I think and hope in the next month the number of visits will be expanded beyond just one person.”

Vancouver’s Dale Edwards was sleeping on the floor of her mother’s long-term care unit as a resident in order to stay close to her.  Eventually, Edwards got “companion” status, which allowed her to make more frequent visits to her mother during the restrictions. 

“I honestly don’t think [she] would still be here if I wasn’t able to stay with her… she wouldn’t have survived,” Edwards said. 

She said she witnessed the tremendous stress among residents and family members because of the lack of contact. 

“The emotional needs of seniors are just as important as the physical needs,” she said. “I am so relieved that [the visits are] finally happening.”

Dale Edwards lived in her mother’s long-term care facility as a resident in order to be close to her. Since March, residents at long-term care facilities have had to rely on video chats and phone calls in order to keep in touch with loved ones. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Adrian Dix, B.C.’s health minister, said the decision to resume visits was a difficult one, but the quality of life for the seniors in the facilities is an important concern.

“I’ve talked to many, many people who are struggling through these circumstances … for them to be kept away [from loved ones] was damaging to their health,” Dix said.

“These are difficult choices and we’ve got to manage the risk.”

Dix says the province will be providing up to $160 million to hire up to 2,040 new staff for care homes (three per home) to help manage the visitations and ensure safety standards.

Mike Klassen, the acting CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association, says long-term care homes are already looking at ways to reestablish contact, but warns that staffing could take some time to set up. 

“Those staff are not just waiting somewhere in the wings to jump into these roles,” Klassen said, noting there will need to be a hiring process put in place and training involved.

“Hopefully we can get this going in the next few weeks and never turn back.”

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