The Seniors Advocate is hoping to see adjustments to not only improve the mental wellbeing of residents, but bring peace of mind to people who haven’t seen loved ones at all, and those who have tried to make use of half-hour, once per week visits.
“The provincial health order compels operators to follow the guidelines, but the guidelines at the end of the day leaves the decision on essential visits and visitors up to operators,” explains Mackenzie, “and that’s different from other provinces. The decision on an essential visitor really should rest with the resident or their substitute decision maker.”
Mackenzie says her office has heard many heartbreaking stories over the course of the pandemic from people who struggle with the lack of contact.
“If we look at what is the single largest issue that people have expressed, it really is around the quality of the visits. I would say that’s the largest issue closely followed by, ‘I can’t get in to visit at all’, and then I think the issue of not being able to go out for outings.”
Along with visitation guidelines, B.C. Care Providers Association CEO Terry Lake says restrictions around activities within care facilities should also be eased.
“Let people sit together at breakfast and lunch and dinner. Let them have some bingo games or some entertainment. We’ve really got to think about quality of life. Not just preventing harm, but we have to think about the harm from isolation.”
Lake says he’d like to see more coordination between operators, health authorities and the Ministry of Health. For instance, Lake points to recent town halls hosted by Vancouver Coastal Health that sought out input from care providers around how restriction adjustments should be rolled out.
“We know that there’s outreach occurring at least in some health authorities. We have not heard that from Interior Health at this point.”
Lake says care operators are caught between a rock and a hard place; they want to avoid outbreaks and adhere to provincial guidelines, but feel a better form of visitation needs to happen.
“We are in the process of sending a letter to Dr. Henry on this very subject because we think it is so important to reunite families and start thinking about quality of life for people living in care.”
BC’s health ministry has not stated what changes will come, but adjustments to long term care visitation are expected to be announced by the end of March.