British Columbia

B.C. families demand changes to rules so they can see loved ones in long-term care more often

Visitors still face stiff restrictions at B.C. care homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and families who have loved ones in care say the policy is contributing to a decline in some residents.

COVID-19 pandemic precautions severely restrict visitors and it's hurting the elderly, say protesters

Demonstrators rally in front of the B.C. Legislature on Tuesday to protest rules restricting visits to long-term care facilities during the pandemic. (CHEK News)

Families who have loved ones in long-term care in the province rallied on the lawn of the B.C. legislature Tuesday, demanding changes to the restrictive visitation policy in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Margaret Corcoran of Nanaimo attended the rally with her sister. She said while her sister has been able to visit their elderly mother in her care home once a week for 30 minutes, she hasn't been able to at all.

"To only have one family member see her once a week for 30 minutes, it's sad for her. We've noticed a big change in her. She hasn't been able to see her grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Window visits aren't the same," said Corcoran.

Under B.C.'s current policy, residents are able to see one person at a time — a single, "designated" visitor — in a designated area. The visits have to be booked in advance and can happen indoors, outdoors or, in some cases, in a single room.

Corcoran said she'd like to see more frequent visits and more than one designated family member allowed to visit. 

"We want to keep our loved ones safe, but to isolate them the way they are now, I think it's doing them a lot more harm than the risk of COVID would."

Corcoran said if they were able to, she and her sister would take their mother out of long-term care but her needs are such that that's not realistic.

For Brenda Brophy of Victoria, it was a tough but necessary option. She has taken her mother out of care because she wasn't able to give her the same level of support as before the pandemic when she could visit more often. 

"I need to take care of her and I can't take the risk that she's going to die in there alone sooner than what would otherwise be the case," Brophy said. 

A demonstrator at a rally in front of the B.C. Legislature holds up a sign on Tuesday. They want more opportunities to visit family in B.C.'s long-term care facilities. (CHEK News)

Elaine Gallagher, the former director at the University of Victoria's Centre on Aging, was also at the rally. She said while the current guidelines allow essential visitors to go in and participate in providing care, very few people are actually allowed to do so. 

She added while safety is a huge concern, more is now known about the management of COVID. With proper protective gear, personal protective equipment, handwashing, masks and social distancing, it is possible to increase visitation to seniors. 

 "Seniors thrive on contact with others and love and support of family and friends. It's not just a matter of having visitors, it's a matter of being with people who really care about you and you've cared about all your life," she said. 

In her press conference Monday, B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the long-term visitation policy is a "very challenging issue that we've been working on for some time."

Henry said part of the challenge is making sure there is sufficient staff to support the visits and remaining cautious throughout the winter.

"We've seen in Quebec and Ontario in particular that they did expand quite a lot and they're now starting to see larger outbreaks in their care homes," she said. "It is a very challenging thing for us to find that balance and we will continue to modify and look at ways to support families to be with their loved ones in care homes. I appreciate how challenging it is right now."

Seniors and elders are most at risk for serious illness and death if they become sick with COVID-19. Long-term care residents make up the vast majority of all reported COVID-19 deaths in Canada. 

With files from CHEK News, On The Island, All Points West

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