New Brunswick

Hospital visiting rules loosened, but families feel 'let down' by Higgs government

While they are glad the rules around visiting are changing at New Brunswick hospitals, some families still feel let down by a government that turned its back and was unwilling to listen and show compassion when they needed it most.

Kim Crevatin believes her fight for compassionate hospital policies exposed a lack of humanity during pandemic

Kim Crevatin and her mother lined up with dozens of others on Saturday, Feb. 27, to get in to the Moncton Hospital. It had been nearly two months since they were able to visit her father, who is in hospital waiting for a nursing home bed. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

Kim Crevatin hoped that by sharing her family's story, the strict rules around visiting loved ones in New Brunswick hospitals would change. She never dreamed the reaction from the public would be so swift and so huge.

"I had to do this for my dad," she said.

Since July, Crevatin's father, Kendyl Terris, has been a patient at the Moncton Hospital, where he is waiting for a nursing home bed.

He has Alzheimer's and communicates primarily through touch. His condition has been declining steadily since the pandemic began, and family visits have frequently been suspended for weeks at a time.

In mid-February no one had seen or spoken with her father for more than a month and Crevatin was at the end of her rope.

After 60 years of marriage, Lonny and Kendyl Terris of Riverview have been separated for weeks at a time during the pandemic. Kendyl has Alzheimer's and primarily communicates through touch, so visits are critical. (Submitted by Kim Crevatin)

In an interview on Information Morning Moncton, she said any hope she had that compassion or common sense would prevail disappeared when her 80-year-old mother was escorted out of the Moncton Hospital shortly after Christmas by security guards when a nurse "caught" her trying to hold her husband's hand.

That was the beginning of a growing call for changes to the rules. During the orange and red levels of COVID-19 recovery, virtually no hospital visitors were allowed.

Within two weeks of Crevatin's public request that the government consider visits on a case-by-case basis, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard announced that one healthy visitor at a time would be allowed to hospitals between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., even in the orange phase.

'The situation is a bit crazy'

After the family tried for months to make their case to hospital managers and politicians, the tide finally turned, Crevatin said, and her mother was buoyed by the support.

"It had just been a bureaucracy telling her, 'OK, but these are the rules and sorry, you're just going to have to follow them.' Instead of that, she's had a lot of support from various people saying, 'You know what? The situation is a bit crazy … and we think that maybe there should be a change.'"

Rules loosened for hospital visiting

CBC News New Brunswick

5 months ago
1:28
Kim Crevatin's father has been in a Moncton hospital for eight months waiting for a nursing home bed. She says strict rules that prohibited any visits for weeks showed a lack of compassion on Horizon Health's part. 1:28

Spokespeople for both health authorities in the province, Horizon and Vitalité, plan to go even further than opening visiting to one person at a time.

"A framework" is now being developed that will allow designated service providers into hospitals by late March or early April, an Horizon spokesperson said. 

Such a program is expected to give one family member or friend the opportunity to complete an online training course to earn the designation and to be able to visit hospitals to care for their loved one with the proper personal protective equipment, regardless of the level of COVID recovery.

"Maybe in cases like my dad's, that person might be able to go and hold his hand and that sort of thing … at this point it's kind of our only way of communicating with him," Crevatin said.  

"So it's a positive thing. And I'm hoping that it'll help a lot of families in this situation."

Kim Crevatin, seen here with her father Kendyl Terris and her mother Lonny Terris, has seen her father deteriorate without regular visits during the pandemic. (Submitted by Kim Crevatin)

Wish government had listened sooner 

While Crevatin is happy that changes are coming, she is bothered that government and hospital officials didn't listen sooner.

She still feels frustrated by the "corporate-ness" of the response she received from those in charge of very human situations.

"I don't feel like these situations necessarily all are black and white. And so I wanted Horizon Health and all of those authority-type figures making the rules to take a step back and say, 'OK, you know what? Maybe we should look at this again from a more compassionate sort of stance.'"

No visitors to the Moncton Hospital were allowed between Jan. 6 and Feb. 26. Spokesperson Kris McDavid said the Horizon Health Authority is working on 'a framework' for designated support people who could complete training to be able to care for a loved one in the hospital. (CBC)

The afternoon the visiting rules changed, Crevatin and her mother lined up with dozens of others to get in to the hospital for the first time in 52 days. Her mom brought Kendyl his favourite muffins — blueberry and carrot — and has visited him every day since.

Crevatin said her mother listens to music with her dad and stays with him each evening until he falls asleep.

A nurse offers help

Sharlene Cormier and her family also spoke out in February about the visiting rules in hospitals.

Marie Anne Cormier, here with her husband Edouard and sons Guy, centre, and Danny, was not able to see Guy before he died Feb. 7 even though they were patients on the same floor of the hospital. (Submitted by Sharlene Cormier)

Her brother-in-law, Guy Cormier, died at the Georges-L-Dumont hospital on Feb. 7, but his mother was not allowed to be with him even though she was a patient on the same floor.

While Cormier is also glad to see the changes, she struggles with the knowledge her family can't get back those final moments.

Her mother-in-law wasn't able to be with her 53-year-old son when he died, and no one was allowed to visit her to tell her he was gone. The family didn't "have the heart" to tell her the news over the phone.

Danny Cormier (left) and his wife Sharlene Cormier begged for exceptions to the strict COVID-19 rules that prevented Danny's mother from being with her son and his brother, Guy, seen here, before he passed away in hospital in February. (Submitted by Sharlene Cormier)

However, since sharing their story, there has been a bright spot. A nurse at the hospital caring for her mother-in-law called their home and offered help to her husband Danny.

"And he asked Danny if Danny wanted to talk to his mom, and if he wanted to tell his mom that Guy had passed," Sharlene said. "And Danny said, 'Well, I want her not to be alone.' And he says, 'Don't worry.' He says, 'I'm going to stay with her the whole time and then I'm going to hang up, and then I'm going to call you back in about 15 minutes and tell you how she did after she received the news.'"

It still makes me sad that we had to go through that experience in order for someone to wake up and to realize that it wasn't right.- Sharlene Cormier

Sharlene listened as her husband broke the news to his mother and then asked, "Are you OK, Mom?"

As promised, the nurse called back and told Danny he had sat with his mother, and she was OK.

"It was a blessing because it was so much weight that was lifted off Danny's shoulder because that was bothering him the whole time. So for somebody to reach out, it really touched us. It really, really did."

'We trusted the government'

After nearly a month in the hospital, Cormier's mother-in-law was moved to a nursing home, where her husband is able to visit every day.

Since sharing the family's story, Danny Cormier is thankful for a nurse who helped him tell his mother, Marie Anne, that his brother Guy had died. Marie Anne is now in a nursing home and her husband is able to visit every day. (Submitted by Sharlene Cormier)

However, like Crevatin, she doesn't understand why it took so much heartache before the people in power listened to families and showed some humanity.

"People should know better," she said. "It still makes me sad that we had to go through that experience in order for someone to wake up and to realize that it wasn't right."

She believes the government and health officials took the rules too far and turned away instead of listening.

"We've always worked hard. We've always paid our taxes, followed the rules. And we trusted the government that when we needed them the most in our vulnerable state that the government was going to be there for us," she said. "And unfortunately, they weren't."

Edouard Cormier was not allowed to see his wife, Marie Anne, who was admitted to the hospital on Feb. 6. He asked for special permission to tell her in person that their son died but no exceptions were made. (Submitted by Sharlene Cormier)

Cormier said her story and Crevatin's story are just two of many. She hopes the members of the Blaine Higgs government will take a closer look at how they respond when citizens ask for help. 

"I would like to know how they would have felt if they would have been standing in our place and had felt how much we felt let down."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vanessa Blanch is a reporter based in Moncton. She has worked across the country for CBC for more than 20 years. If you have story ideas to share please email: vanessa.blanch@cbc.ca

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