British Columbia

Seniors advocate calls for easing of COVID-19 restrictions on visitors in long-term care

A Penticton woman says COVID-19 restrictions on visitors in B.C. long-term care homes made her father's death an isolating experience for her family. 

Penticton woman says restrictions made father's death an isolating experience

Don Wild, 90, died of a stroke in a long-term care home in Trail last month. His daughter, Jennifer Page, said COVID-19 restrictions on visitors made grieving his death an isolating experience. (Submitted by Jennifer Page)

A Penticton woman says COVID-19 restrictions on visitors in B.C. long-term care homes made her father's death an isolating experience for her family. 

Don Wild, 90, died of a stroke the Rose Wood Village long-term care home in Trail, in southeastern B.C., on May 2. Earlier that week, Jennifer Page said her family was able to visit him — including her mother, Jo Wild, 88, who has dementia and lives in the same facility.

After that, Page said the family was not permitted to see their mother again. COVID-19 precautions mean only essential visitors are allowed in B.C.'s long-term care homes.

"This made it extremely difficult because it happened quite a few times where we had to actually pass her and not be allowed to visit with her, comfort her, explain again what was happening," he said.

"She was very confused why she saw members of her family walking past her and going into her husband's room."

While she understands the importance of restrictions on visitors in minimizing the spread of the virus, she said not being able to see her mother and explain the situation made grieving her father's death more difficult.

Don and Jo Wild lived in the same long-term care home in Trail, B.C. (Submitted by Jennifer Page)

A spokesperson from Golden Life Management, the operator of Rose Wood Village, provided an emailed statement to CBC News. It said the facility is currently only allowing compassionate care visits, including end of life. The residence has had no cases of COVID-19.

The statement said residents in palliative care are able to have family members with them. It did not elaborate on the details of those visits or of Page's visits.

"We look forward to the day we can welcome family back through our doors," the statement said. 

'I'm hoping that we will see a change'

B.C.'s long-term care facilities have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic and new outbreaks continue to happen.

Around 50 per cent of people live in long-term care for less than a year, so months of restrictions on in-person visits can be extremely difficult for families, said B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie.

Depending on a person's physical and mental health, video calls and visits through windows might not work, she added. As the pandemic goes on, the increased isolation could lead to other health risks, she added. 

The challenge is in finding a balance between the risk of spreading COVID-19 and the negative impacts of keeping families apart, Mackenzie said.

"We have to find a way for families to connect meaningfully with their loved ones in long-term care, especially over situations like shared grief," Mackenzie said.

"I'm hoping that we will see a change to the visitor policy in the very near future."

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has not said when in-person visits will be allowed to resume at long-term care homes.

During a media briefing on June 15, she said she is heartened by the resiliency of seniors and elders in B.C. as the province works to find the right balance between increasing contact and keeping seniors safe. 

"It is the most challenging question that we have because it's a balancing of quality of life all around, and it's not a simple question," Henry said.

Page worries the restrictions on family visits are having a negative effect on quality of life for seniors living in long-term care homes.

"Is it fair for them to spend their last days, months, who knows how long this will go on, alone and locked away from their families? Is that really a fair thing to do?" She said. 

"We don't believe that that's a good quality of life."