Nova Scotia

Nova Scotians in long-term care can leave to visit family again

Nova Scotians who live in long-term care are now allowed to leave their nursing homes again to visit family, following a relaxation of COVID-19 health restrictions.

Rules changed March 7 as province entered Phase 2 of COVID-19 reopening plan

Elaine McDonald, a resident at Saint Vincent's Nursing Home in Halifax, says she's excited to visit her son after not being able to go to his house during the Christmas holidays. (David Laughlin/CBC)

Nova Scotians who live in long-term care are allowed to leave their nursing homes again to visit family after the relaxation of COVID-19 health restrictions.

The change took effect March 7 when the province moved to Phase 2 of its reopening plan. People were previously only allowed to leave long-term care facilities for medical appointments or to go for a drive. 

It's a development many have been hoping for.

Elaine McDonald is making plans to leave Saint Vincent's Nursing Home in Halifax to go to her son's house for the first time in months.

"It's going to make a big difference," she said in an interview. "I'll be able to go out and visit with him and his family, so it's going to be nice."

It's been a difficult time for McDonald, who couldn't even go to her son's house on Christmas Day.

"It made me feel at times like I was in jail. I've never been to jail, but I just couldn't go any place," she said.

Angela Berrette, Saint Vincent's executive director, said being able to visit family will be good for the mental health of the residents.

"A lot of them have a struggle dealing with virtual connections, so being able to speak on the phone or even through a virtual interaction can be challenging."

Clayton Organ, who has lived at Saint Vincent's for 11 years, has been watching a lot of TV to pass the time as well as talking on the phone to family and friends. There have been times he's been frustrated, too.

"It was hard because you're used to doing so much stuff for yourself," he told CBC News. "Moving around and going outside and to stores and restaurants and stuff. And when you're shut down because of the COVID, it's hard on the mind."

Saint Vincent's resident Clayton Organ says he's looking forward to being able to buy his own groceries and visit with friends. (David Laughlin/CBC)

The relaxation of restrictions also means long-term care residents can leave their facilities to visit parks, stores and restaurants.

Organ said getting back outside and hanging around his friends again will make a huge difference for him.

"It'll perk me up," he said.

Berrette said many long-term care residents have been eagerly awaiting this day.

"Homes across the province have had isolation since before Christmas, in many cases due to outbreaks," she said. "That means they're isolated not only to the home, but often to their unit or their room, so the ability to expand where they can go is great news for everyone."

With files from Gareth Hampshire