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B.C.'s seniors' advocate says long-term care restrictions should be eased faster

Last Updated Mar 9, 2021 at 4:23 pm PDT

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'It's been a year, and we need to return much more to normal,' says B.C.'s seniors' advocate

Dr. Bonnie Henry has promised relaxed restrictions at long-term care homes by end of March

Vancouver Island woman losing hope of taking her elderly mother out for a milestone birthday

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Many families across B.C. are still waiting for visitor restrictions at long-term care homes to be relaxed, as the province’s top doctor has promised, sometime this month.

B.C.’s advocate for seniors is among those saying it’s not happening fast enough.

“When we look at how effective this vaccine is … we can find a compelling reason to allow residents to go out of the home for drives and for social interaction,” Isobel Mackenzie said.

A report Mackenzie released late last year found many seniors in care homes feel so lonely, they’d risk getting exposed to COVID-19.

“It’s been a year, and we need to return much more to normal and recognize the importance of these family visits and the quality of these family visits,” she said.

Related article: B.C. looks to ease COVID-19 restrictions ‘in coming weeks’

The delays are taking a toll on one Vancouver Island family that already has more access than many others.

As an essential visitor, Jeanette Harper lives in Nanaimo and is allowed to see her mom Marguerite Bell several times a week, but that’s not enough.

“I’d love to be able to take her out for a couple of hours for lunch. She turns 90 on March 18 … So, it’s not looking like that’s going to be possible,” she explained.

“A lot of family members have not seen their loved ones up close and personal. If it was children that were locked up like this, this wouldn’t be happening,” Harper added.

Harper tells us it’s difficult for her to engage with her mother in conversation.

“She knows who I am, she knows who my sister is,” she said.

“My sister now gets to go as a designated visitor, but she’s deteriorated. I’m not even sure what her walking is like, at this point … We’re limited to her room. Her mobility has really deteriorated. We just need to know what the plan is … We don’t expect that they’re going to open front doors for everyone. We wouldn’t want that right away, but at least start having some meaningful visits.”

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Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has suggested health restrictions across B.C. could slowly start to be lifted in the coming weeks, but nothing has been finalized yet.

“I have committed, by the end of this month, we will have new guidance — even before that, if we can — that will allow for increased visits with our loved ones in long-term care,” Henry said on Monday.

But she warned we’re not there yet.

“Right now, because there’s still so much transmission, we’re not at the point where we can just open up care homes because that still puts people at risk,” she said.

Mackenzie says it isn’t just about how many different people can visit residents in long-term care homes, “but what the quality of that visit looks like.”

“Really, we should be able to return to in-room visits. Yes, we need to continue to practice our PPE. The wearing of the mask, washing hands, symptom checking — all of that does need to continue for a little bit longer while we get our community transmission down and our vaccination rates up,” she added.

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Henry described the process as “slowly turning up the dial” as opposed to “flipping a switch”, explaining a phased approach will see the return of types of gatherings with precautions in place, as well as in-person religious services.

-With files from Kathryn Tindale