British Columbia

With care home visits on pause, retirement company unveils 'family meetup centres'

Private sector comes up with solution to support family visits; province still unsure when it will allow visitors inside long-term care homes.

Province still unsure when it will allow visitors inside long-term care homes

Diane Montgomery outside her home in White Rock on Wednesday, May 27, 2020. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC) (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

For two months, Diane Montgomery has only been able to see her 89-year-old mother through the ground-floor window of a long-term care home on the North Shore.

Her dad, who is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, lives in a separate facility. She's only seen the 92-year-old over apps like Zoom.

"They don't work with people who have dementia," Montgomery told CBC News. "They just get confused. They don't really respond well to it.

Like many British Columbians with family members inside care centres, Montgomery isn't allowed to visit her parents. The distance has taken an emotional toll on her mental health, but she fears that it could be even harder on them.

Diane Montgomery parents were moved into separate long-term care facilities when her father's dementia worsened. (Submitted by Diane Montgomery)

"I don't think my parents will die of [COVID-19]," she said. "They might die of loneliness though."

That's why Montgomery is urging the province to speed up its plan to reunite family members with loved ones inside care homes. Provincial health officials have called it a priority for several weeks, but so far they haven't released any details on what those reunions might look like.

"Perhaps [it could] start with courtyard or patio visits, distanced, possibly with plexiglass," said Montgomery.

"Maybe there could be a family visiting room, so a family member could visit with a person in the facility ... maybe there could just be one designated person from each family that could go and visit," she suggested.

"[Right now], nobody can go into a care facility unless your parent is about to die ⁠— like, drop dead imminently."

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides an update on B.C.'s latest COVID-19 numbers. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Provincial priority

Visitors have been banned from care homes since mid-March, when health officials declared a COVID-19 oubtreak inside the Lynn Valley Care Centre.

There are active outbreaks inside 14 long-term care homes. The bulk of B.C.'s 162 COVID-19 related deaths involve patients from those centres.

"Our health authorities are looking at how we can make that happen in a way that's safe for everybody in the coming times when we get to that point," said Dr. Bonnie Henry at a briefing on Tuesday.

Bill and Jean Bokla, residents of Oceana Parc retirement home, speak to a visitor in White Rock on Wednesday, May 27, 2020, inside the pod-like 'Family Meetup Center,' which provides a safe space for families to meet during the pandemic. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Private sector solution

Meanwhile, some private sector independent living facilities are proposing solutions. While these sites are not long-term care-homes, they fall under the same provincial guidelines ⁠— only essential visitors are allowed inside.

Parc Retirement Living, for example, has built five prefabricated, pod-like "Family Meetup Centres" outside its seniors residences.

"It's an individual centre that has separate entrances ⁠— our families are able to enter from one side, and our residents enter on another side," said HeeSon Domay, the company's general manager. "Once you're inside, you're able to have a close face-to-face meeting."

Jean Bokla, resident of Oceana Parc retirement home, leaves the pod-like Family Meet-up Centre. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Each unit is outfitted with a plexiglass barrier and air filters to block out any possible transmission.

"We know this is going to go on for a while ... so we really wanted to be proactive and look at a long-term alternative for our residents and families to visit," added Domay.

It's an idea family members like Montgomery think could transfer over to long-term care centres as the province relaxes its physical distancing measures.

"They watch the news. They know that the restrictions are lifting for everybody — but not for them," said Montgomery.


With files from Tanya Fletcher


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