Calgary

Families frustrated after premier's stop at care home appeared to block visitors from seeing loved ones

Family members of residents at Millrise Seniors Village in Calgary are expressing their frustration over the premier's photo-op at the beleaguered long-term care home on Friday. 

AHS says false-alarm over COVID-19 case, not premier's visit, forced other visits to be cancelled

Premier Jason Kenney waves during a visit to Millrise Seniors Village in south Calgary on Friday. Some family members are frustrated, as the premier's visit blocked other visitors from seeing their loved ones. (Agecare/Facebook)

Family members of residents at Millrise Seniors Village in Calgary are expressing their frustration over the premier's photo-op at the beleaguered long-term care home on Friday. 

Michael Sondermann said his sister was set to visit their parents — who are both residents at Millrise and in their 90s — for the first time since March on Friday.

Visiting restrictions at the facility had finally eased, following a COVID-19 outbreak that saw the home taken over by Alberta health authorities, as the previous operators had failed to provide basic standards of care.

But Sondermann's sister was turned away at the last minute. She was told the visit was cancelled because of "one person," with no further detail provided.

The family assumed the worst — they feared the "one person" comment meant yet another resident or staff member, had tested positive for COVID-19.

That assumption changed when they received an email, thanking Premier Jason Kenney — who is also MLA for the area — for his Friday visit. 

"The premier commended the hard work of AgeCare, residents, families and staff in following the chief medical officer's orders and remaining COVID-19 free. We want to thank Premier Kenney for taking the time to visit Millrise Seniors home to brighten the day of our residents and staff," the email from AgeCare, the home's new operator, read.

"My mom's crying because she can't see her daughter, and my sister can't see her mother. And why was it, so that Jason Kenney can show up for half an hour and take some pictures?" Sondermann said. 

"For the entire day none of those families were able to visit their loved ones in the facility simply because of some short little publicity stunt from the premier."

However, in an email to CBC News shortly after this story was first published, Alberta Health Services said it's incorrect to say visits were cancelled because of the premier's presence at the facility.

"Visits At Millrise were cancelled on Friday morning as a result of a potential positive COVID-19 case, not because of the Premier's visit. Before the Premier arrived, the potential case was determined to be a previously identified case who was no longer infectious," AHS said.

CBC News is continuing to ask officials for more details about the incident.

AgeCare has so far not responded to inquiries regarding the premier's visit.

Sondermann said he reached out to AgeCare to ask the justification for the visit and why he got no advance notice about the visits being cancelled.

He told CBC News that officials at Millrise claim they had phoned everyone on Friday to explain visits were being cancelled due to a suspected case of COVID-19. But nobody in his family received a call, he said. 

Premier's visit

The premier tweeted about his visit, saying the home has come through its COVID-19 outbreak "with care and compassion for the residents."

"What kind of compassion is there for taking away a visiting opportunity for people in long-term care facilities and preventing them from seeing their families?" Sondermann asked.

A spokesperson for the premier said Kenney briefly visited the care home to thank workers and say hello to his constituents, but that the premier did not go inside and spoke from the courtyard while residents stood or sat on raised balconies above. 

"The visit occurred under the supervision of professional medical staff, and COVID protocols were maintained. The premier did indeed wear a mask, and did not shake hands," an emailed statement read.

However, a video of the visit shows the premier removing his mask to address staff, who stood metres away from him. 

When asked about that portion of the visit, the spokesperson said, "the premier did briefly remove his mask to speak unmuffled while at a substantial distance of over 10-12 feet ... all done under the supervision and guidance of the home's professional medical staff."

Premier Jason Kenney briefly removed his mask during a visit to the Millrise seniors home in Calgary, as seen in these screenshots from a video showing his address to staff and residents. (Submitted)

Renee, whose mother resides at the home, said she was frustrated to see the premier remove his mask for a portion of his visit, as when she visits she's required to wear a mask, only visit outdoors and stay at least two metres away from her mother. 

CBC News has agreed not to use Renee's last name as she is concerned sharing her frustration could impact her mother's care.

"I don't want another outbreak to happen at Millrise, we've already gone through that once and it was heartbreaking enough," she said. 

Renee was initially told in a phone call that all upcoming visits were cancelled but that decision was later reversed and her children were able to visit their grandmother on Saturday.

"It's kind of panic inducing when you get a call like that," she said. 

She said when she discovered the reason some visits were cancelled, she was livid.

"I think that's really unfair because we've been struggling to visit our loved ones," she said. "We can't hug them … last time I spoke with my mom she was really upset because of the restricted visitors.

"Those are visits that people are only getting once a week."

With files from Elise Von Scheel

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