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Frustration mounts for families across B.C. kept from visiting someone they love in long-term care

Last Updated Jun 10, 2020 at 4:08 pm PDT

(CREDIT: iStock Photo)

The province's advocate for seniors says frustrated families want to visit loved ones in long-term care homes

Many families have been kept apart for more than three months amid the pandemic

Not everyone can reach out by phone or video, so work continues at every level to keep people safe

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — B.C.’s advocate for seniors says she’s been getting more complaints from people wanting to visit loved ones in care homes and she shares their frustration.

Isobel Mackenzie maintains she’s doing everything she can to re-connect those families because –even during a pandemic– they should not be kept apart and many have already waited three months.

“The challenge is I understand how real the anxiety is –not just for the family members, but for their loved ones who are living in that care home,” she says. “Three months is a very long time when you think about average lengths of stay in care homes and people can change rapidly in three months in a care home.”

She adds not everyone can reach out by phone or video, so work continues at every level to keep people safe.

“Because this is not a risk-free decision. Life is not going to completely return to normal until we either have a vaccine or the virus dissipates and both of those are not going to happen tomorrow. How are we going to manage families visiting their loved ones over this next year.”

As someone who used to work in long term care, Mackenzie admits this crisis has been the most challenging one she’s faced.

“I feel so much for folks who want to visit their loved ones, as well as for the people who have to make the decisions.”

She’s also offering hope people won’t have to wait until a vaccine is developed to see someone they care about.

“We’re not dealing with no visits for the duration of the pandemic and I don’t think anybody is saying that.”

Mackenzie says most outbreaks are over within a couple of weeks, but COVID-19 is making all stakeholders anxious.

“Everybody ultimately wants the same thing. We want families to be able to visit their loved ones in care homes safely. How can we do this to minimize as much as possible that this will increase risk because we know what happens once it gets in.”

She explains not everyone can arrange virtual gatherings or visit a family member in a courtyard.

“Certainly, if that is providing an opportunity for some people that otherwise would not have an opportunity, I think that that is a good thing, but there are people living in care homes for whom that type of visit isn’t going to be practical and isn’t going to work.”

Mackenzie says some care home operators already arranging short-term visits may have to pull back in the fall when another outbreak of influenza is likely and a second wave of COVID-19 is possible.

“There may need to be restrictions re-imposed at certain times if certain things happen, but I think what’s important now, as we move forward, families understand that they are going to be able to see their loved ones in the near future,” she says. “It’s going to have to be under a much more coordinated and scheduled approach than I think people have been accustomed to in the past. Understanding differences between care homes by virtue of their size, their location, their layout, their levels of staffing.”

The provincial health officer for B.C., Dr. Bonnie Henry, is still pushing for a province-wide approach.

Mackenzie says she believes that’s also why B.C. has been able to better contain the virus than other regions –including Quebec and Ontario.