Forge plan to go beyond just window visits, says advocate

The reversal of a policy banning window visits at City of Ottawa long-term care homes is now raising the issue of just how isolated some residents of those homes have been during the pandemic.

City of Ottawa says additional staff will supports window visits with proper physical distancing rules

City of Ottawa staff are working on a window visit policy that would allow residents on all floors of municipally-run care homes, not just the first, to arrange such visits with their loved ones. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

The reversal of a policy banning window visits at City of Ottawa long-term care homes is now raising the issue of just how isolated some residents of those homes have been during the pandemic.

The policy received swift backlash this week soon after it was announced, with Mayor Jim Watson urging city staff to work with Ottawa Public Health to come up with a plan by May 7 that would allow the visits to resume.

Dean Lett, the city's director of long-term care, said it was initially implemented in response to family members touching or even kissing loved ones through window screens.

"We support visits through the windows. That's not the issue. The issue for us is the social distancing not being maintained," Lett said. 

With some residents now being allowed outside because of the warmer weather, they need to be assured of having enough space, Lett said — and there initially wasn't enough staff to do that.

Twenty-two staff transferred from the city's recreation and culture department have now been trained to work at the four city-run homes: Peter D. Clark, Garry J. Armstrong, Carleton Lodge and Champlain.

Lett said the additional staff will help arrange window visits and virtual visits using tablets, computers and phones. 

Mayor Jim Watson says families should be allowed to visit their relatives through the windows of long-term care facilities, though physical distancing rules must be followed. 1:37

Plan to reintegrate designated visitors, advocate says

Julie Drury, strategic lead for patient partnership at the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement, said COVID-19 has undone a lot of the work that helped include family members in their loved ones' care.

She said the city's policy on window visits appeared to be "a bit of [a] knee-jerk and maybe poorly thought out," adding she's glad it's being reconsidered.

Drury said her organization's work with hospitals has shown how important it is to have designated family caregivers — who could be relatives or friends — support someone as they receive care.

To better foster that support, homes could take steps like training caregivers on infection control measures, she said, or the proper use of protective equipment.

"You don't want everybody in there. You can't have an open visitation policy. But you can have a policy where one to two identified integral family caregivers can potentially be included in care," Drury said.

While some health-care facilities have adapted with technology allowing visitors to follow physical distancing rules, Drury said that may not be appropriate for everyone, particularly if residents face cognitive or other impairments.

"It doesn't work for all residents. Some residents don't have the capacity, either from the physical point of view or the mental point of view," she said.

Challenge for infection control

The City of Ottawa also confirmed Friday two residents at one of their homes, Peter D. Clark, have tested positive for COVID-19, as has one staff member.

Families have called attention to the lack of staffing in long-term care homes, with some noting they've had to perform important aspects of their loved one's care themselves, including feeding and cleaning.

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health, said the current restrictions on visitors come from the provincial government and only allow for exemptions based on compassionate grounds — such as seeing a resident at the end of their life.

"Family members are hugely important from a caregiving perspective, as well as the social connection," Etches said.

She said if she worked for the province, she would be cautious about broadening the scope of possible visitors because the priority remains infection control.

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