Some N.S. long-term care homes barring visitors, designated caregivers amid Omicron wave
Province urged homes to keep visitors out, but allow designated caregivers earlier this month
After Nova Scotia urged long-term care facilities to close to visitors earlier this month, some facilities have also made the decision to bar designated caregivers in hopes of further preventing the spread of COVID-19.
The R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home in Antigonish is one of those facilities.
Terry MacIntyre, the CEO of the home, said the decision to bar visitors — including designated caregivers — lessens the risk of a COVID-19 exposure that could devastate residents and staffing.
"We're just trying to lessen that foot-track traffic as best we can to make sure that we can manage [the Omicron wave]," MacIntyre told CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia on Friday.
Earlier this month, the province urged all long-term care homes close to visitors, but recommended that each resident be assigned two designated caregivers instead.
However, MacIntyre said that recommendation depended on the operational situation of each home.
After one exposure already last month, MacIntyre said the home couldn't risk another that would threaten residents and put even more pressure on staffing.
That's when he decided to close the doors to all visitors, including designated caregivers.
"We needed to get more confident in our systems, so for the past two weeks, we've had several layers of safety that we've put in place," MacIntyre told CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia on Friday.
"Basically, we're testing them to see if they're working with staffing and keeping COVID-19 out of the building."
MacIntyre said the home has implemented new screening protocols that require direct-care staff to be tested daily. Those who are not in direct contact with residents must test each week.
He said that strategy is going well and the home has already intercepted five staff who tested positive for COVID-19.
"The nature of the beast is that during that infectious period, the first 48 hours, it's invisible, so we really have to rely on our screening and educating our staff and our visitors on what to be looking for," he said.
He said this testing strategy could extend to designated caregivers once they return.
"As we become more comfortable with it and more confident with it, we're going to have to live with it," he said.
"Right now, that's the transition that we're making. We know we can't see it, it's asymptomatic for the first 48 hours. How do we manage that to keep our residents safe and keep our building staffed as best we can? That's the challenge going forward."
It's a challenge many other long-term care homes are also going through, including Evergreen Home for Special Care in Kentville.
Cynthia Morrison, a designated caregiver whose father lives at Evergreen, said staff at the home have been "[running] off their feet" trying to care for all the residents.
It's even worse now that caregivers are restricted, she said.
Morrison, whose father has dementia, said she would often take him to a common room where he would socialize with other residents and watch live music performances online.
But now that caregivers aren't allowed in, she said her father has been isolated to one area of the care home, which doesn't have a TV that can access YouTube.
She said the recreation department has also had trouble with staffing and many activities have come to a stop, including singing, which is something her father has spent his life doing and still enjoys.
"He doesn't even get out of this room. Plus, he regresses. The less socialization and the less activity, he regresses … he just sits there," she said.
Morrison said when her father was previously staying in a veterans' hospital waiting for a room, she heard just how difficult isolation is for some patients.
"The nurses were crying and told me that the veterans ... were dying of loneliness and depression," she said. "So I'm aware from a long time ago of what restrictions do to people in hospitals and long-term care facilities."
Morrison said she understands how hard long-term care home staff are working to keep residents safe and cared for.
"They take really good care. They're exceptional and I know they're trying to do the right thing, so I don't have anything against the facility or the people," she said.
Evergreen did not return an emailed request for comment in time for publication Friday.
Morrison said she hopes designated caregivers will be allowed to return soon.
"I consider it a great responsibility … he's my first priority," Morrison said.
"He's just locked down, not allowed to go down the hall or into the great rooms. He has to stay in his room. He doesn't have a TV or anyone to put YouTube on for him to watch or listen to music."
At the R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home, MacIntyre said the restrictions are only temporary, and he hopes to bring back designated caregivers as soon as possible.
"COVID is not going anywhere so we need to make sure that our systems are in place and as we get more confident with them, we'll start looking at opening up again," he said.
With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia