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Restrictions on B.C. long-term care visits unchanged in Phase Two

Last Updated Jun 14, 2021 at 9:07 pm PDT

Bed at nursing home with nurse and wheelchair on background. (CREDIT: iStock photo)

One woman with a mother in long-term care says she would like more clarity on when, how restrictions on visits will ease

B.C.'s restart plan outlines when restrictions will ease, but decisions on long-term care will be made separately

Health Minister Adrian Dix has said the province is looking at revising, easing, adapting restrictions in long-term care

NANAIMO (NEWS 1130) — While there is a clear restart plan in B.C. for restaurants, tourism, and social gatherings, families with loved ones in long-term care say they still aren’t sure when they’ll be able to see family without a mask, stay longer than an hour, or bring the whole family along for a visit.

On April 1, restrictions at long-term care homes were loosened, meaning hugs and hand-holding were allowed once again, and the number of people allowed in at once increased.

Jeanette Harper’s 90-year-old mom lives at Eden Gardens in Nanaimo. While the province’s reopening proceeds, she says she would like to know what the reopening plan is for visitors.

“We’re now almost three months past that, with other things opening up, people being able to gather in groups of 50 — we can only go two adults, and one child in to see a loved one. So, it would be nice to be able to go with four or five people, if a family wanted to go in and visit their loved one in long-term care,” Harper says.

“I think families are hoping we’re going to have more flexibility with visiting.”

Harper says, while the vast majority of residents in long-term care have received two doses of vaccine, and many family members have received at least one shot — the risk is significantly down. She understands screening of visitors will not go away any time soon, but is hoping to be able to visit for longer and without having to book an appointment.

Still, being able to visit in small groups for an hour a day has made a world of difference for Harper’s mom.

“A month ago, when I visited she wasn’t getting out of bed. She has been out of bed for the last two weeks, so I believe that it’s having huge impacts. Someone has been in to see her every day for the last two weeks, and I think that makes a difference — even if we’re only allowed to go for an hour,” she says.

“She was quite zombie-like two months ago, and now she’s better.”

RELATED: Hugs allowed again: B.C. long-term care visitor rules expanded

Health Minister Adrian Dix has said the province is looking at making further changes, adding the changes ushered in in April have had a “profound impact” on the quality of life of residents in long-term care homes.

“We are going to continue to revise and adapt to ensure, to increase — we hope — access and the openness of long-term care so that people can engage in social activity that’s particularly important,” he said last Thursday.

Despite widespread vaccination, outbreaks persist in some long-term care homes and healthcare settings. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said guarding against outbreaks of variant strains of the virus is one of the key factors informing how and when to ease restrictions further. She also said keeping vulnerable residents protected remains a priority, adding she is “absolutely” considering the possibility of mandatory vaccines for long-term care staff.

RELATED: B.C. considering mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for long-term care workers

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health says plans for opening up long-term care will proceed independent of the province-wide restart plan, because the risk in those settings is higher.

“While the steps of B.C.’s Restart Plan focus largely on province-wide data regarding case counts, increasing vaccination rates, declining hospitalizations and declining mortality rates throughout B.C., decisions around long-term care restrictions will be made to protect the vulnerable people living in these settings,” says an emailed statement.

A report released in March found that about 10 per cent of COVID-19 infections in Canada were among residents of long-term care homes. However, 69 per cent of people who died from the virus were residents in these facilities — a rate significantly higher than the international average of 41 per cent.