As the Omicron variant tears through the province, rules around essential visitors for residents of long-term care homes remain unclear, and in some cases unfair, according to advocates.
On Tuesday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provided an update on restrictions, including the gradual reopening of gyms while restrictions on organized indoor gatherings remain in place.
However, no changes were announced for visitors to long-term care, as some hoped.
As it stands, only essential visitors are allowed in long-term care facilities, including those crucial to a resident's care and mental well-being, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
But the province does not define what is crucial for a resident's care, leaving it up to care home operators to figure out.
Sheila Schmidt's mother lives in a long-term care home in Victoria. Her mother has dementia, and Schmidt would typically visit daily to provide personal care, and help her work on her memory.
However, Schmidt was recently told she isn't considered an essential visitor because her mother's physical needs can be met by care home staff. Instead, she said she's classified as a social visitor.
"That is quite infuriating to me," she said.
Schmidt, a registered nurse, worries about staffing in the facility, as officials have noted that thousands of health-care workers are calling in sick every week.
"I'm quite worried about her."
A survey of care-home residents and their families found that more than half of those who applied for essential visitor status during the early months of the pandemic were denied.
B.C. Care Providers Association CEO and former health minister Terry Lake said the process to apply to become an essential visitor is complicated.
"[Families] have to demonstrate through a written plan that the essential visitor is providing a need that could not be met in the absence of that essential visit, and that puts operators in an uncomfortable position of being between the family and the regulators," he told On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko.
"I'm concerned that operators feel put in an uncomfortable position of trying to make the determination whether a visit is essential or not."
Lake said that if there were more rapid tests available to long-term care homes for visitors to take before entering, there could be one designated visitor for each resident, without determining whether they're essential.
"We do need to make sure people stay connected, and the simple way to do that would be to clarify and simplify the process whereby everybody gets a visitor," he said.
"Everybody should be able to have a visitor and should be able to visit safely."
LISTEN | Terry Lake expresses concerns about essential visitor rules in long-term care