Wellness checks are a challenge during COVID-19 isolation

Efforts are being made around New Brunswick to check on those who are especially vulnerable during the COVID -19 pandemic.

"I'm telling you honestly, all of the seniors are scared to death," said Matthew Kenney of Rexton.

"They're scared to go out. They're scared to get any company."

Kenney has health issues and a small fixed income. 

Besides the virus, he said, many seniors are worried about how they'll pay their bills, which have increased because of costs such as delivery fees.

"It just feels like we're in the middle of a great big field covered in snow screaming for help and nobody's hearing us."

Kenney's wife ran a small home-support business, but some of her clients have asked her to stop coming.

They're worried about being exposed to the coronavirus.

Nathalie Arseneau of Dalhousie said many of the 250 or so clients of her home-care business in northern New Brunswick, Atlantik Quality Care, have also cancelled or cut back on their service.

They want to minimize their potential exposure, she said.

"Everybody is nervous."

Fewer home care workers

It's actually worked out for Arseneau, in terms of managing human resources, because some of her 150 employees have temporarily stopped working.

"A lot of our employees are almost 50 years old and older. … There's some that have their own health issues, so they have to stop working for their own health." 

A few other workers have lost their daycare providers.

It's "balancing out" more than Arseneau expected, with part-time workers are taking on more hours.

Arseneau said she's confident that clients are getting the care they need but admits there is still an excess demand.

In many cases, she said, family members have stepped in to help make sure their loved ones are OK.

Melynda Jarratt of Fredericton said her family is in that situation. 

Family members filling the gap

The regular caregiver of 102-year-old Lucy Jarratt in Bathurst had to self-isolate, so Melynda and two of her siblings are staying with their mother to fill in.

"We're trying our best to keep things going," said Jarratt. 

"I don't know how much longer I can last up here, though. … I can't stay forever." 

Arseneau said the government could help address the shortage of home-care workers by boosting their wages to make it a more attractive field.

Jarratt said she is more worried about elderly people who don't have family around.

The Canadian Red Cross is one of the organizations that provide home support through the Department of Social Development.

Some of its clients have opted to reduce or postpone visits too, said Dan Bedell, a spokesperson for the agency in Atlantic Canada.

In most cases, however, the service is continuing, he said, "with enhanced safety protocols."

Those protocols include minimizing direct contact and using protective gear such as gloves, masks and aprons.

The Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents' Rights is trying to reach out to as many isolated seniors as it can.

Wayne Chase Photography

Volunteers are calling 100 people a day for social visits over the telephone, said Cecile Cassista, the executive director.

"We're trying to give them comfort," Cassista said.

"You can tell that there's a sense of loneliness, especially if their family members are out of province." 

"So it's important that we keep in touch with them. And keep the dialogue going."

Board members are also distributing tips on how to stay physically and mentally healthy through their network of phone and email contacts.

Meals on Wheels groups are trying to maintain social links with vulnerable populations, as well.

Submitted by Betty Daniels

Volunteers normally stay and chat for a few minutes with clients when they drop off meals, said Betty Daniels, the executive director of Fredericton Meals on Wheels.

It delivers about 240 meals a day to seniors, people with disabilities and people recovering from illness.

"In these circumstances, we're leaving the meals at the door and not interacting as much," Daniels said.

"But most of our drivers are rapping at the door and checking to make sure everything is OK."

Every day she gets calls from drivers saying they didn't see certain clients around, so someone will make a followup phone call to check on them.

"We're at this point feeling that our clients are doing as well as can be expected in this situation."

The Emergency Measures Organization in northern New Brunswick has embarked on another campaign to do "wellness checks" from a distance.

It started in the village of Balmoral, said Ken Magee, EMO's area manager for northern New Brunswick.

Residents who were at home self-isolating arranged through social media to flash their lights at 9:30 p.m., as a show of solidarity and to signal they were okay.

Magee offered to show up in an EMO vehicle with flashing green lights.

A fire truck went as well. 

It was such a hit, said Magee, that it grew the next night to a parade of emergency vehicles through many city streets in Campbellton. 

People in homes, vehicles and seniors' apartment buildings flashed their lights and waved as the parade passed.

"It was a real feel-good moment," said Magee.

"Glad to see they were social distancing … but at least their neighbours knew that they were safe and they were all getting through this together."