New Brunswick

Nursing homes and special care homes face uncertain Christmas holiday season

Nursing homes and special care homes in New Brunswick are trying to plan for Christmas holidays in a time of COVID-19 uncertainty.

Many homes are trying to plan ahead, but changing COVID-19 numbers are making that difficult

With changing COVID-19 rates in the province, the owners and operators of nursing and special care homes face an uncertain holiday schedule. (CBC)

With Christmas looming, nursing homes and special care homes across New Brunswick are finding it difficult to plan for the holidays.

The numbers of active cases of COVID-19 are constantly changing, so it's hard to know what the situation will be on Dec. 25. Nine new cases, including five in Moncton, were announced Wednesday, bringing the total number to 40.

"It's a very stressful time for all of the homeowners and operators and the staff as well," said John Grass, who owns the Grass Home in Riverview with his wife, Lynn. "We're trying to do everything we can."

There are about 60 residents between the long-term care and special care facility.

Grass said every effort is being made to keep families together during the holidays, but there is no way to predict what will happen.

"We just can't forecast … it's almost like trying to forecast the weather in a month's time. You just don't know what the situation's going to be like." 

The Grass Home in Riverview has about 60 residents. Owner John Grass says it's difficult to plan visits and outings with constantly changing COVID-19 rates. (Kate Letterick/CBC News )

There have been many requests for outings, he said, but he's still taking a wait-and-see approach.

"We're not ready to announce any plans for visitation or how any outings will be, just pending, and I think that's a game day call," he said.

"It's going to be much closer to Christmas before we're prepared and satisfied that we can say with a relatively high degree of certainty that yes, we can allow this, and if so these are the reasons why we're going to allow it, and if we can't allow it, here's the reasons why we can't."

Hillcore Atlantic Retirement Living Ltd., which includes Auberge du Soleil, Moncton Residence and Oasis Residence,has sent a letter to families outlining plans for the holidays.  

The letter, obtained by CBC News, says the holiday season "will be really different for all" and outlines a number of points.

It says all gifts for residents will have to be received before Dec. 10, and the maximum weight will be 10 pounds.

"Any gift that doesn't respect these guidelines will automatically be thrown out."

The letter also says that if outings aren't allowed during the holidays, but visits are, a draw will be held to determine which residents will be able to receive a visit on which day between Dec. 23 and Dec. 27 and Dec 30 and Jan 3.

Because of provincial restrictions, "it will take five days for each resident to have a visit for Christmas and/or New Year's," the company said. The draw will be done in early December.

Moncton Residence is one of three homes run by Hillcore Atlantic Retirement Living Ltd. in the Greater Moncton area. It has sent out a letter to families to help them prepare for Christmas. (Kate Letterick/CBC News )

The letter said Hillcore wants to ensure residents have happy holidays while respecting the standards and policies imposed during the pandemic.

No one from Hillcore Atlantic was available for an interview.

Jan Seely, the president of the New Brunswick Special Care Home Association, said a lot of time has already been spent adjusting to COVID regulations.

The association includes 400 special care homes in the province, which take care of 4,000 seniors and 2,000 adults under the age of 65.

"Trying to monitor visitors and sanitize rooms twice a day, and high-touch services and all of that … have just been added chores to the already-strained staffing," Seely said.

Seely said everyone is trying to plan ahead.

"We're in the business of trying to help people enjoy their lives as much as they can, and that's what we're going to try and do. The restrictions on visiting need to be managed and we've had some time to practise." 

Jan Seely, president of the New Brunswick Special Care Home Association, says staff have spent a lot of time adjusting to COVID-19 regulations. She's hopeful the holidays will go smoothly. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

She said the 4,500 workers in homes across the province will "do their best" to make sure everyone has an enjoyable holiday.

A New Brunswick seniors advocate agreed but cautioned that families and seniors need to be prepared for a very different holiday season.

Cecile Cassista, the executive director for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents' Rights, said the pandemic has been very difficult for seniors, especially those who aren't able to get out.

"I can see calls that I'm getting, people are going downhill," Cassista said. "It's a rough time for them."  

Cassista is hopeful owners and operators will take a common-sense approach for the holidays.

Cecile Cassista, the executive director of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights, says families need to prepare for a very different holiday season. (Submitted by Cecile Cassista)

She said it's important to keep the lines of communications with residents open.

"Right now they've got a pattern when people can come and see them, and it's a form of education and understanding that there's a pandemic out there," she said.

"So if they up those rules and become very restrictive, I think it's going to be very, very hard for the families and also for the residents, and there's going to be some pushback." 

Cassista said families should keep in contact with homes and get a clear understanding of what's going to happen so that can be translated to seniors.

"The more time they can communicate with the loved one or see the loved one, I think that will assure them and give them some spirit, and that's what they need to do. They have to have spirit to move forward and not give up."  

Back at the Grass Home in Riverview, John Grass said families have been understanding about the ever-changing circumstances. He's optimistic things will work out, but said he also has to be realistic that anything can happen during a pandemic.

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