Nova Scotia

Restrictions create 'most heartbreaking situation' for long-term care residents, says N.S. woman

The wife of a man living in a long-term care facility in Nova Scotia says she's 'heartbroken' by the COVID-19 restrictions that remain in place for residents despite the province reopening.

Wife of man with dementia says she's watching her husband die slowly of boredom and neglect

As of June 30, residents at long-term care facilities can leave to visit outdoor public places and those who are fully vaccinated can visit stores and restaurants. (Richard Lyons/Shutterstock)

The wife of a man living in a long-term care facility in Nova Scotia says she's "heartbroken" by the COVID-19 restrictions that remain in place for residents despite the province reopening.

"We are allowing international travellers into this province, but we're not allowing seniors who are double vaccinated — who have been crying for their families — we're not allowing them to come home and sit on a deck and have some peace," Anne Camozzi, an artist living in Antigonish, N.S., told CBC Radio's Mainstreet in a recent interview.

"I can't even describe for you the effect on families."

Nova Scotia reopened to some international travel earlier this week, just days after the province moved into Phase 3 of its reopening plan, which allows more freedom for long-term care residents.

As of June 30, residents can have scheduled outdoor visits without physical distancing, and residents who are fully vaccinated may have guests in their rooms without physical distancing.

Residents can also leave the facility to visit outdoor public spaces like parks, and those who are fully vaccinated can visit stores and restaurants.

But Camozzi said these changes still aren't enough. Her husband has dementia and is unable to visit public places.

"He doesn't know what is happening. It's just the most heartbreaking situation I have ever experienced," she said, adding that his routine was upended during the pandemic, which worsened his condition. 

She has noticed an "unmentionably horrible" decline in his health.

Anne Camozzi, pictured, is an artist living in Antigonish. Her husband has dementia and lives in a nearby long-term care facility. (Submitted by Anne Camozzi)

"You wouldn't be allowed to take insulin away from a diabetic," she said. "But what they done for people with dementia is take away everything they need to thrive."

This is why she's frustrated that residents are not yet allowed to visit family homes or have overnight visits.

"I've been double vaccinated since March and I still can't take my husband to my deck," Camozzi said. "I live alone. There's nobody else here and he can't come and sit here comfortably on a deck."

On Wednesday, Premier Iain Rankin acknowledged how isolating the pandemic has been for seniors and said the province must invest more in facilities and staffing.

"No question, there will have to be a long process after this pandemic to look at all of the impacts across our society and long-term care is one of those that stands out for me," Rankin said at the COVID-19 briefing.

Health Minister Zach Churchill said he expects long-term care facilities to allow residents to visit their family in their homes as soon as next week.

"Those protocols have worked in terms of protecting people from the virus. But of course, there are these other implications that happen as a result of loneliness and not being able to hug and be with your loved ones," he said.

Zach Churchill, pictured, is Nova Scotia's health minister. On Thursday, he said the province has worked hard to preserve life and keep COVID-19 out of long-term care homes. (Robert Short/CBC)

But Camozzi said that next week will be already too late, especially as her husband's health continues to decline.

"We will be ashamed of how we have treated our seniors and our disabled people," she said.

"We should be horrified that these people who have paid taxes all their lives, who have contributed to communities, and I'm basically watching my husband die slowly from boredom and basically neglect."

Camozzi said she's not alone in feeling this way. She's part of a growing online group called Reunite Families of Long-Term-Care Residents, which documents the experiences of families of residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We families are exhausted. We're heartbroken, and we will never get our loved ones back to the way they were before the pandemic," she said. 

"We've all accepted that now, but now we want to just give them a little bit of a summertime."

With files from Alex Mason, CBC's Mainstreet