B.C. seniors advocate wants change in care home visits during pandemic

·3 min read

VICTORIA — Health restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at British Columbia's long-term care and assisted living facilities should be revised to allow more family members to visit loved ones, says the province's seniors advocate.

Isobel Mackenzie recommended easing the restrictions on Tuesday as she released a survey that reflects the experiences of 13,000 residents and family members during the pandemic.

The report includes emotional accounts from family members who had not seen their  relatives for months due to limits on the number of people allowed to visit care facilities.

"When we initiated visit restrictions back in March, most of us, myself included, supported the measure," Mackenzie told a news conference. "However, I did not foresee that nine months later we would be where we are today, with prolonged separations for some family members and only brief impersonal visits for many more."

B.C. acted swiftly to restrict visits at care facilities after COVID-19 outbreaks last spring and the restrictions on visits were eased during the summer, but after nine months an increase in the number of visits should be considered, she said.

Mackenzie said while there have been 151 COVID-19 deaths in B.C. care facilities during the pandemic, 4,500 residents have died of other causes, with many spending their final days in isolation from their families.

"There are literally thousands of residents in this province who went from seeing their loved one almost daily to seeing no one for four months and now for the last four months, many of these visits are 30 minutes, once a week, often outside, sometimes between Plexiglas and usually with someone watching," said Mackenzie.

B.C.'s limit on having one designated visitor at care facilities has meant that many adult children have been separated from their parents since March, she said.

Mackenzie recommended more visits by designated essential care providers, usually a spouse or one sibling, and allowing social visits by other family members.

"We need to allow for both daughters to see their dad," she said.

The report also recommended that the Office of the Seniors Advocate and Health Ministry work together to develop a provincial association to represent long-term care and assisted living residents and family councils.

B.C. took immediate steps to protect long-term care residents, including spending $160 million to hire 2,400 more staff to increase safe visits, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

"Protecting residents, while balancing the desire for connection, is an incredible balance that our health leaders wrestle with every day," it says. "The seniors advocate recommendations help inform these ongoing deliberations."

Mackenzie said her report also highlights increases in the use of antipsychotic medication during the pandemic and more cases of weight loss, poor mood and signs of depression.

She said many residents and families said regular contact with their family members outweighed the COVID-19 risk.

"In long-term care, the goal is not immortality it is quality of life in our final years," said Mackenzie.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2020.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press