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Family eagerly waits to visit mother again in Coquitlam care home

Lorraine Williamson's daughter looks forward to finally being able to visit her mother again in a Coquitlam care home) (Courtest Kimberly Williamson)

A long-awaited announcement from the province means Kimberly Williamson can finally visit her mother again

The province is allowing visits to long-term care homes again, a move welcomed by B.C.'s advocate for seniors

Union representatives says the stakes are high for care home staff to keep everyone safe, more hiring still needed

COQUITLAM (NEWS 1130) — The daughter of a woman living with dementia at a care home in Coquitlam hopes it’s not long before she and her siblings can hug their mother again.

Kimberly Williamson has been eagerly waiting to visit her 92-year-old mother, Lorraine, a resident of the Dufferin Care Centre for nearly two years.

They haven’t seen each other since April.

“She seems more withdrawn now and you can just hear it in her voice. I mean, she’s just wanting us to carry on with our lives and maybe, in the back of her head thinking we should just forget about her,” Kimberly says.

Kimberly says the change in her mother’s mood started around March, when restrictions on visiting were first imposed.

“She’s got a broken heart over all of this. It just breaks my heart to see her like that. It just takes a chunk out of you.”

But Kimberly also says she understands provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry couldn’t move too quickly on easing restrictions.

“You can see the heartfelt in her voice as she’s talking about it, and I feel the exact same way that they’re doing it the right way from what I can see.”

B.C. health officials made the announcement Tuesday that visitors will be allowed in long-term care homes while following certain protocols.

RELATED: Visitors allowed back in B.C. long-term care homes

Kimberly adds she has been waiting for weeks to hear back from anyone at the home.

Isobel Mackenzie, the province’s advocate for seniors, says she’s pleased no time limits will be set on visits.

“And I have every confidence that family members are going to be incrediblly responsible –following the protocols that are necessary to ensure it is a safe environment,” she says, adding she hopes in a few weeks more than one visitor will be allowed per family.

Mackenzie points out many residents in long-term care don’t have visitors at all.

“We need to keep that in perspective. The consequences of having no visits for a year are probably going to outweigh potential consequences of allowing visits under the very restricted environment.”

She adds she’s happy more funding has been provided to ensure staff are not overwhelmed.

No room for error

Jennifer Whiteside, secretary-business for the Hospital Employees Union, says the stakes are high for employees of long-term care homes, which is about 20,000 people that the union represents.

“We all understand, our members understand, that it’s absolutely crucial for the seniors living in care homes to have access to their loved ones, but they have to do it to be safe. The stakes are so high for this, we just, we absolutely have got to get this right,” she says.

“When care homes and assisted living facilities are opened up again for visitors, that there is a high level of attention paid to ensuring the safety of the environment.”

Mike Klassen, the acting CEO of the BC Care Providers Association, also warns it might take some time for more than 380 long-term care and assisted living home operators to hire more staff and actually start scheduling visits.

“Hiring staff is not something you can do overnight and then, of course, there’s a scheduling process that has been talked about, especially for some of the larger operations. I think it’s going to be challenging and it could take some time, but it’s an important first step,” he explains.