Disabled woman says she feels trapped by long-term care home's COVID rules

·3 min read
Vicky Levack lives at Arborstone Enhanced Care in Halifax. The home is one of the few facilities in the province to offer long-term care for young adults with disabilities. (Vicky Levack - image credit)
Vicky Levack lives at Arborstone Enhanced Care in Halifax. The home is one of the few facilities in the province to offer long-term care for young adults with disabilities. (Vicky Levack - image credit)

A disability activist who lives in a Halifax long-term care home says COVID-19 regulations at the facility have left her feeling like a prisoner.

Vicky Levack has cerebral palsy and lives at Arborstone Enhanced Care on Purcells Cove Road — a nursing home that also offers long-term care for young adults with disabilities.

Levack told CBC Radio's Mainstreet that pandemic restrictions imposed at her facility are "paternalistic" and based on biased assumptions.

She said they are also far stricter for residents than for staff or visitors.

"I know that sounds harsh to say I am a prisoner and I do not say that lightly," Levack said. "I thought about it a lot before I used that word, but that's the only word I could come up with that fit."

Levack said she was only permitted to go for walks after her father wrote the Health Department and advocated on her behalf.

However, Levack said she was warned not to interact or speak to anyone while on the walks. She said she believes all residents at Arborstone have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

While the Nova Scotia government issues regulations and guidelines for long-term care facilities, each facility is responsible for their own operation, said Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of heath.

Strang says discussions are ongoing about easing restrictions at long-term care facilities.
Strang says discussions are ongoing about easing restrictions at long-term care facilities.(CBC)

He told Mainstreet his department gave Levack permission to walk outside, but he was puzzled by the restrictions on talking and interacting with other people.

"There's no reason that if she's out walking that she can't stop and talk to somebody," he said. "If they're six feet apart and talking, there's no risk there."

Levack said she is allowed to see her parents for four hours a week, as long as both parents visit separately.

She said the government's approach is "infantilizing" people like her.

"You know ... 'Don't worry little disabled girl, we know what's best for you. This is too hard for you to figure out,'" she said.

Strang said the facility's rules about the duration and frequency of visits could be to ensure all residents have an opportunity to see their loved ones.

He said Levack is "somewhat unique amongst the typical population" in long-term care, and that creates issues around allowing an individual access to the community that other people in the facility might not be looking for.

He said work needs to be done to create more appropriate living circumstances for adults with disabilities so that their only option is not a long-term care facility.

As for keeping residents safe during the pandemic, Strang said long-term care facilities have been a priority for vaccinations and there are ongoing discussions around easing restrictions.

"I can't give you a specific date, but certainly in the coming weeks, I've asked my team to start looking at this as a priority," he said.

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