A son's love for his elderly mother has led him to speak out against visiting restrictions at Gander's long-term-care home.
Byron Welsh is permitted to visit his 85-year-old mother, Fronie Welsh, for only two hours per week, due to rules related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Welsh says it's not enough, especially when his mother, who has dementia, was used to getting daily visits from family members when she lived at a private seniors' home in Lewisporte.
"This is my mom. I don't care how old she is," said Welsh. "She's still our mom, and she needs us, and we need her."
Moving house during pandemic
Fronie Welsh had lived at Pleasantview Manor in Lewisporte for the past three years but, due to declining health, she was relocated in late July to the long-term-care home in Gander, where she can receive a higher level of care.
Welsh said the move was difficult for her and for her close-knit family, with them initially being told that no family member could enter the building with her on her first day at Lakeside Homes.
That concern was resolved to the family's satisfaction, but Byron Welsh said they've noticed a steep decline in their mother's health in the weeks since she moved to Lakeside.
She's used to seeing us. - Byron Welsh
Welsh said his mother was walking independently when she entered Lakeside, but she is no longer permitted to do that out of concern for her safety.
Since moving, he said, she is also not eating well, and staff have spoken to the family about giving her supplemental nutrition drinks for sustenance.
Welsh said on their most recent visit his mother did not seem to recognize him nor his sister, who was also a frequent visitor when their mother was in the seniors' home in Lewisporte.
"What makes life work is the human connection part, and I'm sure my mom feels that, and maybe that's why she's in the decline that she's in," said Welsh.
"She's used to seeing us, used to being with us."
Visiting hours vary
Welsh said he was surprised to be able to visit his mother for only two hours per week, so he decided to check with other long-term-care homes in the province to find out about their rules for visiting hours.
He said he found quite a bit of variation among government-run facilities, with some allowing even shorter visits than Lakeside, but some allowing more and much longer visits.
He said he thinks all long-term-care homes should allow their residents the same access to visitors.
"I'd like government to set guidelines that are reasonable, not ridiculous, and open up the homes so that we can see our loved ones on a regular basis, and for more than one hour or two hours a week," said Welsh.
Screening and cleaning take time
The Central Health authority, which runs Lakeside Homes, acknowledges the rules are different at other facilities in other regions of the province.
But Craig Davis, Central Health's senior director of primary health care and community services, said the visiting restrictions at Lakeside follow provincial pandemic guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Community Services for long-term-care homes.
Davis said Lakeside has 102 residents, which means more potential visitors, and protective procedures must be taken every time a visitor comes into the building.
We understand the importance of visitation. - Craig Davis
"All our visitors have to be screened before they enter the building, and then we also have to do additional cleaning after the visitors leave before another visit occurs," he said.
Davis said Central Health is willing to work with families on a case-by-case basis to come up with arrangements to allow visits outside of the standard hours of 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
But Davis acknowledged the number of hours residents may receive visitors will remain limited to two one-hour visits per week for the foreseeable future.
Davis said Lakeside Homes is willing to also offer virtual visits via technology in addition to the in-person visiting time.
"We certainly would understand Mr. Welsh's concerns and frustration," said Davis. "In Central Health, we understand the importance of visitation from families for our residents."