New Brunswick

New Brunswick considers allowing family members to visit nursing home patients

Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard said the province is exploring ways to allow nursing home residents to have visitors.

Minister says province has to be cautious about lifting restrictions that have been in place for months

So far the province has seen 121 cases of COVID-19, none of them in nursing homes. (Jean-Francois Badias/The Associated Press)

Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard said the province is exploring ways to allow nursing home residents to have visitors.

This comes after the province further loosened COVID-19 restrictions last week.

The new rules extend the two-household bubble to close family and friends and, starting this Friday, allows outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people.

But it didn't bring any changes for nursing home residents, most of whom haven't had direct contact with their families for months.

"We are working on a plan to reintroduce visitors into nursing homes, but we have to do it cautiously," said Shephard.

So far the province has seen 122 cases of COVID-19, none of them among nursing home residents, although nursing homes have been among the hardest hit by the disease in other provinces and in the United States.

Shephard said she isn't sure what the new plan will look like because it's still being developed, but families would have to decide which members could visit the nursing home.

She hopes those chosen will take greater care in their own life to reduce the chance of COVID-19 being introduced into nursing homes.

Restrictions on visitors

Shephard said the province has already introduced some measures to allow visits to patients in palliative, or end of life, care.

"[We] allow two family members, but only one can visit at a time," said Shephard.

Shephard said nursing home workers are dealing with an unprecedented health emergency under less than ideal circumstances.

Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard says nursing home workers are dealing with an unprecedented health emergency under circumstances that aren't ideal, including not having the help of volunteers. They aren't allowed in. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Homes are at capacity and volunteers have been barred from nursing homes during the pandemic, increasing the amount of work to be done by staff.

"They have gone to such extremes to entertain, to care, to provide uplifting days for their residents," said Shephard.

"If you go to any of their Facebook pages you can see that. They put forth a tremendous effort."

Shephard said having too many visitors would create a burden on an already taxed system.

Dodging bullets

COVID-19 can be devastating when it's introduced into a nursing home.

In Ontario, there have been more than 1,400 COVID-19-related deaths at nursing homes. 

Visitors are still prohibited at senior care facilities. Dorothy Shephard is New Brunswick's Minister of Social Development. 11:39

At a nursing home in Dorval, Que., 31 residents died in less than a month.

Shephard said the province has gotten off easy, and it's the only one even considering loosening restrictions on visits.

But, she worries that the introduction of one case into a nursing home could spell tragedy.

"Every single morning I would wake up praying that we didn't get a COVID case in a nursing home," said Shephard.

With files from Information Morning Saint John

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