New Brunswick

Nursing home residents now allowed to hug one designated person

After months of physical distancing from loved ones in nursing homes, residents will now be allowed one designated person who can visit in their rooms and have physical contact with them.

Off-site visits have also been reinstated in change that pleases families, despite confusing implementation

After nearly six months of physical distancing, the government announced on Aug. 28 that nursing home residents woud be allowed physical contact with one designated person. Some are still waiting. (Juli Miller)

Greg Loosley has been on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster over the last few days. 

After nearly six months of not being able to hug or hold hands with his wife of 53 years, the Sussex man heard last Friday that the government would loosen the restrictions at nursing homes. 

The announcement said that long-term care facilities "that wish to reintroduce designated support people are now permitted to do so, provided the appropriate guidance is followed."

Loosley got his hopes up that he'd finally be able to hug his wife — and be able to take her to his apartment for a day visit. 

Some sort of misunderstanding with officials at the home led him to believe that wouldn't happen. 

But the province was very clear in its response on Wednesday — hugs are now allowed between residents and one designated person, said Abigail McCarthy, a communications officer with the Department of Social Development.  

Greg and Carol Loosley have been married for 53 years. They had their first hug since March on Sept. 3. They're still waiting for an off-site visit at Greg's apartment. (Submitted by Kelly McMillan)

In a memo sent to nursing homes, the department said, "Designated support persons (DSPs) have always been an important part of resident well-being in New Brunswick.

"Prior to COVID, these supports did not have an official name. But, with family members or friends often being active participants in important day-to-day activities for residents (such as feeding, social interactions, physical activity etc.), it was clear that these support people should be identified and named in order to ease restrictions for their visitations to long-term care facilities. DSPs are allowed to have close contact with residents." 

The department also said off-site visits — day outings or overnight visits — would also be allowed. 

But the province left the exact details up to individual facilities. 

For example, at the Kiwanis Nursing Home, where Loosley's wife resides, physical contact is allowed with one designated person, said administrator Laura Adair. 

The person has to wear a mask and gown, and wash their hands upon entry into the facility, she said.But the nursing home is implementing a gradual approach to the lessening of restrictions and off-site visits are not yet permitted, said Adair. 

While Loosley is grateful that he'll be able to hug his wife on Thursday for the first time in almost six months, he is disappointed that he has to wait longer to bring her home for a visit. 

For months, window visits were the only way that loved ones could spend any time with residents of nursing homes. For many, it wasn't enough. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

"I'm glad I can hold her hand at least," he said. "Yeah, I'm happy about that, but my wife wants to get out and come to my place big time. And I want her, too.

"At my place, I can give her something to eat; I could give her her needles, pills, all that stuff. And we could spend that time together." 

In making the announcement last week, the government said off-site visits provide an important break from the routine for residents.

"We recognize that many residents have not had the ability to have close contact or leave their facilities since March," said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, in a news release. 

"It was important for us to ease these restrictions to meet the needs of the residents and their families while continuing to protect our most vulnerable residents."

Bonnie Aigner says her mother, Donna Alcox, pictured here at her nursing home, is craving physical contact. (Submitted by Bonnie Aigner)

If the province returns to red or orange phases, restrictions on DSPs and off-site visits may be reintroduced.

Bonnie Aigner was also confused about exactly what the government's announcement meant. 

She is ecstatic that the government has clarified that hugs will be allowed. 

"Oh, such good news," Aigner said on Wednesday. 

"My spirits have just lifted … and my mom, finally, after such a long time of feeling unloved, will be able to feel the warmth of her daughter's gentle hug. Oh, that will be such a boost to her mental well-being. Again, to see her smile will be the best thing of all."

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