British Columbia

Visitor restrictions in long-term care homes leading to difficult decisions, family says

Most long-term care homes in B.C. are now welcoming visitors after months in lockdown, but strict rules on who's allowed inside are forcing some families to make tough decisions.

Currently, only one designated family member or friend is allowed visits in B.C. long-term care facilities

Under the province's guidelines, visitors must follow several health and safety rules, like wearing a mask, sanitizing their hands and talking to their loved one from at least two metres away for the duration of the 20-minute visit. (Lighthunter/Shutterstock)

Most long-term care homes in B.C. are now welcoming visitors after months in lockdown, but strict rules on who's allowed inside are forcing some families to make tough decisions.

Valerie Utgarun's 84-year-old mother lives at Kiwanis Village, a long-term care facility in Nanaimo. A few weeks ago, Utgarun said she and her sister were allowed to visit at different times, from a distance, and with masks on.

But according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control's guidelines on visitors, only one family member is allowed to visit for the foreseeable future.

Utgarun said her mother was told to choose which daughter that would be.

"She started crying, because imagine being asked to choose? She said, 'Well, I won't choose,'" Utgarun said.

The province announced the easing of COVID-19 restrictions for visitors at long-term care facilities and assisted living homes on June 30. Every facility had to first submit a safety plan to the government.

So far, 79 per cent of facilities in the province have done so, but there are still more than 100 long-term care centres that have not submitted their safety plans and are not yet welcoming visitors. 

Under the province's guidelines, visitors must follow several health and safety rules, like wearing a mask, sanitizing their hands and talking to their loved one from at least two metres away for the duration of the 20-minute visit. 

Utgarun said she doesn't understand how limiting visitors to one person makes those visits safer. 

"I just don't understand the reasoning behind it other than to minimize contact tracing," she said.

"The residents who have such a limited life right now already, it just seems really cruel and unnecessarily cruel."

B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie said most long-term care facilities that have implemented safety plans have been "fairly quick."

She expects almost all facilities will have safety plans in place and be ready to welcome visitors by the end of the month.

The province says existing guidelines on visitors will be updated in August to determine whether the visitor policy can be safely expanded to include other family members or friends.

Restrictions of some kind will likely be a reality for the rest of the year, Mackenzie said, and it's unlikely entire families or groups will be able to visit at once. 

She said she's hopeful current restrictions will be eased soon, but the new normal will mean increased rules surrounding visits. 

"What we're experiencing now is, to a large extent, what life is going to look like for the foreseeable future," she said.

"I hope we can go beyond, but I think it's not going to be six or seven, or anyone who wants to come to visit."

With files from Jon Hernandez

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