British Columbia

Families debate bringing loved ones home from seniors facilities during COVID-19 pandemic

B.C.'s seniors advocate says families should feel free to bring parents or grandparents home anytime, as long as they can provide proper care. But she cautions that many families aren't fully equipped to do so.

B.C. seniors advocate cautions that many families aren't fully equipped to care for elderly relatives

Karen Baker-MacGrotty says her mother, Emily Baker, was frail when she was released from the hospital but is now regaining her strength and even dancing around the house. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Emily Baker's memory can be fuzzy, but it comes roaring back as she looks through old photo albums in the kitchen of her daughter's home in New Westminster, B.C.

"That's Tom," she said, pointing at a picture of her late husband, former New Westminster mayor Tom Baker. "And that's me."

Moments like this are one of the big reasons why Baker's daughter, Karen Baker-MacGrotty, decided to bring her mother home instead of returning her to a seniors care facility. There are other reasons, too.

Early data from the COVID-19 outbreak suggests seniors are more susceptible to contracting the virus. There is currently an outbreak at Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, B.C.

Baker, 88, has dementia and mobility challenges, and earlier this year she was discharged from Royal Columbian Hospital after being injured in a fall.

Under the circumstances, Baker-MacGrotty feels more comfortable with her mother at home, so she hired a part-time nanny.

"We've had a great time," Baker-MacGrotty said.

"She's dancing and she was playing the drums last night."

Baker is happy and healthy living with her daughter and son-in-law, but B.C.'s seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie cautions that every family situation is different.

B.C. seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie says families should try to make life as normal as possible for seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

'It won't work for everybody'

Mackenzie says families often bring parents or grandparents home for a few days at a time for special occasions or over the holidays, and they should feel free to do so anytime as long as they can provide proper care.

She says, however, that many families aren't equipped to ensure their elderly loved ones are safe.

"It won't work for everybody," she said.

"I don't think you should be trying it if it's not going to work for you."

Emily Baker, 88, looks at old photos with her daughter, Karen Baker-MacGrotty, at home in New Westminster, B.C. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Seniors' isolation

Mackenzie was concerned about seniors being isolated long before COVID-19 and now she worries the situation will worsen for many elderly people.

She encourages families to continue to visit seniors as long as they follow protocols outlined by health officials, such as not visiting in large groups and staying home if you're sick.

"We have to normalize life as much as possible during these extraordinary times that we're living in," she said.

"Within the realm of caution, prudence and guidance from our provincial health officer, we need to let this continue."

Several care facilities around the province are using tools such as Skype and Facetime so that families can continue to visit, even if they're not feeling well.

Baker-MacGrotty knows she's fortunate to be in a position to have plenty of face-to-face time with her mother.

"She's really come back to life," Baker-MacGrotty said.

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

About the Author

Jesse Johnston worked in private radio from 2004 to 2014 in Vancouver, Red Deer and Calgary. He spent the next five years based out of Surrey (his hometown) as CBC's South of the Fraser reporter until he joined the Impact Team in 2019. Jesse is a two-time recipient of the RTDNA Dave Rogers Award for Best Short Radio Feature. He loves radio, running and dogs. He also loves the Detroit Lions, but if you follow him on Twitter, you already knew that. @Jesse_Johnston

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