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COVID-19: Restrictions on long term care homes another blow to isolated residents


“She’s at the end of her life. What are we doing this for? She says I just want to die, I just want to die.” — Cathy Nelson on the isolation her 91-year-old mother is experiencing in a long term care home

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Marian Jardine, 91, says she just wants to die. Her distress is loneliness.

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Her daughter, Cathy Nelson, hasn’t been able to explain why she suddenly won’t be able to visit her at Langley’s Marrwood long term care facility.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Friday that only one designated essential service visitor will be allowed per resident in long term care facilities in an effort to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in those settings.

The restriction came in to effect on Saturday, and will remain until Jan. 18.

The new restrictions are gut-wrenching for families.

“She’s at the end of her life. What are we doing this for? She says I just want to die, I just want to die,” said Nelson.

Jardine, who entered long term care just before COVID-19 hit, was family oriented, bright, sarcastic, and funny. Her dementia was manageable. She declined rapidly when restrictions barring visitors during the first and second wave of the pandemic were enforced. Jardine is now deaf and blind, which heightens her isolation and distress.

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Then came vaccinations. Rapid testing rules were put into place for visitors. Things improved. The grandchildren could visit. Nelson, 64, and her sister, both fully vaccinated including their booster shots, could help their mother, and provide relief to the staff.

“She can be stubborn and difficult, so we could help them with her,” said Nelson.

Now she and her sister will have to decide which one of them their mother will no longer be able to see.

Cathy Nelson holding a picture of her mother, who is in longterm care but new restrictions prevent her from seeing her, in Langley.
Cathy Nelson holding a picture of her mother, who is in longterm care but new restrictions prevent her from seeing her, in Langley. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

Jen Lyle, Chief Executive Officer of the Alzheimer Society of B.C. said the province’s restrictions are unfair, and more restrictive than Ontario, which allows two essential visitors.

An essential service visitor is someone who provides critical support in long-term care or assisted living, related to decision making, mobility, feeding, and bathing.

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“It’s the care home that makes the decision on who is an essential visitor, and we find the guidelines are not being interpreted across care homes, or across health authorities throughout the province,” said Lyle.

Only about 15 to 24 per cent of long-term care and assisted living residents in B.C. have designated essential visitors.

“The majority will have no face-to-face access to loved ones,” said Lyle.

Lyle said the single essential visitor policy has a “significant, negative, emotional and physical impact for residents of long-term care and their loved ones” and questions why the restriction is necessary when vaccinations and rapid testing are mandatory for every visitor.

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“We hear stories of family members who have their loved ones on a call or they see them through a window, they cry, they stop eating, they become depressed,” said Lyle.

In early December, the Alzheimer Society wrote to Henry’s office requesting residents be allowed one essential visitor. Lyle said the health authority has not replied.

“The current definition is based on a medical model, and addresses things required medically, but it doesn’t address the emotional needs of residents,” said Lyle.

Research examining the impact of B.C.’s essential visitor policy by Jennifer Baumbusch, an associate professor in the school of nursing at UBC, found that, “visitation restrictions arising from public health’s pandemic response have unintentionally compromised these familial bonds and access to specialized family care, potentially contributing to further physical and cognitive decline, and distress among residents.”

Baumbusch writes, “Persisting with the existing essential visitor definition risks ongoing trauma to family caregivers whose only wish is to support homes to provide high quality care and ensure continued quality of life for their relatives.”

For Nelson and her family, the emotional toll is incalculable. “It’s incredibly hard on my mom, my sister and I. And now, who gets to see her?”

dryan@postmedia.com

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