Mayor moves to reinstate window visits amid backlash
Reversal follows city memo detailing new restrictions on visitors to long-term care homes
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson tweeted Thursday that he has directed city staff to come up with a plan to reinstate "window visits" for people with loved ones at city-run long-term care homes — often their only means of contact as many facilities remain locked down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Watson said he has asked city staff to work with Ottawa Public Health to put a plan in place by May 7 that respects physical distancing rules.
2/2 I have asked that a plan be in place by May 7, that will ensure residents and visitors respect the physical distancing rules at the same time.—@JimWatsonOttawa
Ontario premier Doug Ford also weighed in on the window visit restriction on Thursday afternoon, calling it "ridiculous."
"I'm trying to be politically correct, but I'm usually not politically correct. That's ridiculous ... I don't know who's come up with this ridiculous idea but they need to rethink it," Ford said during a news conference.
- Ottawa bans window visits at city-run long-term care homes
- Families worried about restricted access at long-term care homes
The reversal comes one day after the city's director of long-term care told CBC there would be new limits placed on visitors at the city's four facilities.
An email was sent Monday to families of residents of at least one long-term care home asking that they refrain from in-person visits.
"This difficult decision to limit these visitors to the exterior grounds of the homes is based on prioritizing the safety and health of residents and staff," Dean Lett said Wednesday.
Lett said residents at the city's four facilities are starting to go outside now that warmer weather has arrived.
"We have experienced a number of situations where families have visited and have not respected the requirement for physical distancing as directed through public health agencies," he said.
Visitors coming too close
John McCormick, chair of the family council at the Garry J. Armstrong long-term care home, said the policy change followed reports of visitors getting too close to window screens, or inviting residents who are allowed outside to smoke to approach their vehicles.
"When it affects you it seems to be unfair, but I think the general public has to get an understanding that the bottom line is the protection of all the residents and the staff," McCormick said. "If that infection gets into just one person, we know how quickly it can spread."
Garry J. Armstrong has three confirmed cases of COVID-19 among staff, but none among residents. There is one other confirmed case among staff at Peter D. Clark.
McCormick said he believes the mayor's response was genuine, but worries what will happen if the rules are relaxed again.
"I'm not sure how practical it is given that once you see your loved one in the state they may be in, whether it's distressed or mentally anguished, it's very easy to just forget about the [physical distancing] protocols," McCormick said. "Human frailty and emotions get in the way."
City workers to assist
Lett said 22 workers are being transferred from other departments to assist staff at the city-owned facilities.
"We're now having them come in and work alongside our staff and doing additional training, and those resources will be a key component of helping us to connect our families and our residents either through the window visit or via Skype by email phone calls," Lett said Thursday.
"My heart goes out to our families and our residents. This is really unprecedented times, and it's not how we would want to be working in partnership with our families and our residents," he said. "These decisions are not being made lightly."
Confusion over new rules
In an interview prior to the mayor's tweet, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury acknowledged there has been some confusion over the new rules.
"I didn't see the initial memo going out, but it should've been properly explained: our responsibilities, how many facilities we operate and what measures we're putting in place," Fleury said.
Fleury said the visit policy was meant to protect residents who may be getting fresh air and exercise outside the facility. He said the window visits meant the exterior grounds of the homes were becoming increasingly busy.
"We're asking members of the families to call ahead and coordinate with the centres for those window visits," Fleury said.
"It seems easy when there's mobility for the residents, but we have a lot of residents with very limited mobility and that requires coordination with our internal team, who's very busy at this time."
Fleury said staff are also trying to make it easier to arrange video calls with residents.
Seven-hundred residents live in the four long-term care homes run by the city. Those homes include the Garry J. Armstrong, Peter D. Clark, Carleton Lodge and Champlain homes.
With files from Claudine Richard, Natalia Goodwin, Stephen Hoff