Nova Scotia

Nursing-home staff and families accept and 'hate' new restrictions

Cathy Walker hates the fact she may no longer be allowed to visit her 100 year old mother in her nursing home room, but she understands the need to once again restrict who can enter a nursing home during wave two of the pandemic.

Nurses and families hope letting some volunteers and designated care givers in will ease burden this time

Kathleen Murphy, who is 100 years old, survived her battle with COVID-19. (Submitted by Jen Warrington)

This fall, Cathy Walker trained to properly don protective clothing, wash her hands and wear a face mask so she could visit her 100-year-old mother in the room she calls home at Northwood in Halifax.

She was able to visit Kay Murphy twice as a result, but future visits are uncertain now that the province has once again imposed limits on who can enter a long-term care facility.

"I hate it, but it's the smart thing to do," Walker told CBC News after learning of the change Tuesday from Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health.

"Instead of being able to go visit her like we had been whenever we wanted, we're now going to be restricted again," she said. "But they have to do that."

During the province's Tuesday COVID-19 briefing, Strang explained the new restrictions.

"As we continue to control the spread of the virus we need to have a particular focus on those who are most vulnerable among us," he said. "So effective 12:01 a.m.Thursday across the province all long-term care facilities will be closed to visitors, except for volunteers and designated care givers who will be allowed inside."

Although Walker is her mother's designated caregiver, she also happens to be the assistant manager of a retail store in Kentville, where she lives.

Cathy Walker likely won't be able to see her mother during the increased restrictions, but she understands it should prevent the spread of COVID-19. (CBC)

Now that COVID-19 infections are on the rise, she is not sure if her work with the public will prevent her from continuing to care for her mom.

Walker does not want to bring the virus into Northwood, which this spring was the epicentre for the pandemic in Nova Scotia. Of the province's 65 deaths from the virus, 53 were residents of the home, the province's largest care facility.

During the first wave, the province locked down long-term care homes and allowed only staff to enter them. Allowing others in is an attempt to ease the burden staff shouldered alone last spring.

Nurses hope helpers will be allowed

The Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association, which represents 76 homes, more than 80 per cent of care facilities in Nova Scotia, agrees with the new, less stringent restrictions.

Debra Boudreau said nurses will face more pressure. Finding a way to safely let volunteers in would help, she says. (Submitted by Debra Boudreau)

Debra Boudreau, the board chair, said it was the appropriate measure, despite its impact on families and residents.

"It's not something any of us would choose to do lightly or want to do it," said Boudreau. "It's certainly not the environment that we want to create in our nursing homes, but given what's happening all around us, it is the right decision to do for the moment."

She said allowing some volunteers and one family member to help out would ease the pressure on staff.

"If we can have those individuals in our building, at least even on a small scale to help us with the day to day, and especially when we get into an outbreak, that is a relief to us," she said.

But Boudreau is worried about those people too.

"The majority of those individuals are also the at-risk population, they're also the elderly in our community," she said. "They may be not as frail as the individuals living in care, but they too are seniors and are very much at risk."

Boudreau said the flip side is the comfort it will bring to residents that they didn't have last spring.

"The residents missed their presence and had to rely on staff to be their everything," said Boudreau. "To be able to continue those connections with their loved ones, their families, that's really priceless."