Nova Scotia·Q&A

Rally planned over 'heartbreaking' rules on family caregivers at long-term care homes

People with relatives in long-term care facilities say the province's move to allow designated caregivers back in to support residents is not enough.

Saturday's gathering in Wolfville aims to put pressure on province to further ease restrictions

Holly Crooks' mother is a resident at Northwood, the long-term care facility in Nova Scotia hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

On Tuesday, Nova Scotia announced designated caregivers will soon be able to help long-term care home residents again. These changes will start to be implemented in individual care homes on Friday.

The caregivers could be family, friends, or other support people, and need to help with specific tasks like personal care, mobility or eating.

But some family members say the restrictions are still too tight and this change won't make a difference for many people. A rally is being organized this Saturday in Wolfville to bring attention to the issue.

Holly Crooks, whose mother lives in Northwood, the long-term care home in Halifax where the majority of Nova Scotia's COVID-19 related deaths occured, spoke to CBC Nova Scotia News at Six about her concerns with the province's decision.

The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

You heard the announcement from the province this week about designated caregivers. What's your reaction? 

Holly Crooks: They chose a very restrictive description of what would constitute a caregiver. Those people who can be designated as caregivers had to have been caregivers prior to COVID. It fails to take into consideration that over a period of six months in lockdown, basically locked in a room with no activity, no stimulation, no visits from loved ones, people have deteriorated physically, mentally, cognitively, and their needs may have changed. So there's no consideration for that. And I believe that the government has chosen that model in order to restrict the number of people who will be eligible. 

Nursing homes across Canada, and Northwood in particular, were hit very hard by the virus. How do you balance the need to keep people safe and the mental health and happiness of the residents?

Crooks: We need a more nuanced and balanced approach. Our government has been using a hammer. They were very quick to take away people's basic human rights and lock them down in the name of keeping them safe. But they've been super reluctant to ease those restrictions and have just done so in the most incremental ways, not even coming close to what families are reasonably demanding.

Spring has come and gone. People like my mother didn't even get to be outdoors. We've had a handful of very short, scheduled visits with her. They're too short, too infrequent, and they're supervised. It's demeaning to us as her family, and to her. It doesn't respect her rights. Often she and other people I've spoken to, their family members cry at the end of these visits. It's just heartbreaking. 

What do you hope happens as a result of the rally this weekend?

Crooks: All of us who've been advocating are just hoping that we help to contribute and create this groundswell of people speaking up and saying, "This is not who we are as a province." Is it really okay that we should take away the rights of a whole class of people? So many people are not just dying alone, they're dying of loneliness.

With files from CBC Nova Scotia News at Six