What new visitation guidelines mean for families of long-term care home patients

Families of those living in long-term care facilities are happy with new visiting regulations, but some are left in confusion.

Guidelines put into effect on June 3 lead to relief, confusion for families

Heidi Lindsay's father was a resident at the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre for two years and due to the COVID-19 visitation restrictions his family was not able to support him before he passed away on April 8. (Trent Peppler/CBC News)

Families of those living in long-term care facilities are happy with new visiting regulations that could give them more access to their loved ones, but some are left in confusion.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) started restricting visitors to long-term care facilities on March 14, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regina woman Heidi Lindsay pressured the health authority to loosen restrictions after her father died alone during the pandemic.

Her father Jim had been a patient at the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre in Regina for two years. He needed oxygen due to pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease that can come in spurts leaving lasting damage to the lungs.

"He was just a really kind, funny, incredibly intelligent man." Lindsay said.

After initially being allowed to visit and care for her father for the first two weeks of lockdown, Lindsay said she got a phone call from staff at the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre saying she and her family were no longer allowed to visit her father. 

This was a big change for Lindsay, as she said she and her siblings visited her father at the facility every day to provide some of his primary care.

"It was an effort everyday to get him to eat well, to get him to get up and move." Lindsay said, "Without us there to do that everyday there was nobody else doing it."

And suddenly that was no longer.

"There was no planning, there was no warning," Lindsay said, "There was no period of time to come and talk to our dad to tell him what was happening."

Sadly, Lindsay's father passed away on April 8. Lindsay said she was able to talk to her father through an "iPad visit" earlier that day.

Heidi Lindsay says her father Jim was a kind, funny, incredibly intelligent man. (submitted by Heidi Lindsay)

Changes to guidelines

Lindsay said after her father passed away she was approached to be part of a task force that was being put together by the SHA.

"I was part of some focus groups and discussions, it was a really intense experience for me and no matter what happens my dads not coming back." Lindsay said, "If I could use our experience for some good for somebody else in another family, that's why I'm here."

The SHA's new guideline on visitation for long-term care facilities came into effect on June 3.

With these new guidelines, quality of life of the patient will be taken into account when deciding if visitation of up to two people will be granted.

Dr. Susan Shaw is the chief medical officer with the SHA and she said the goal of the task force was to define what "compassionate reasons" were.

"We were looking at people who may be facing end of life." Shaw said. "It was mostly limited to one person at a time and it was very difficult for families and it was very difficult for staff."

Compassionate reasons now include long term care residents who require the assistance of a family member or support person, but that will be judged on a case-by-case basis Shaw said.

"There is uncertainty in the way that it is currently worded and we're working to get [a] better shared understanding." Shaw said.

"I really miss the family presence at the bedside," Dr. Susan Shaw of Saskatoon said Thursday. (Zoom)

If the patient's long-term care facility cannot reach a decision, the individual cases will be looked at by a family presence panel that meets on a daily basis, .

If visitation is approved, family members and support people will be provided with a medical grade masks to wear while in SHA long-term care facilities. They will also be screened with a COVID-19 questionnaire and temperature check.

"We're still working within a public health order which restricts the amount of people and visitors that can be within the healthcare system." Shaw said.

Difficulties with number of visitors

Brenda Moffat's mother is currently in care at the Jubilee Residences in Saskatoon. She went into care a day after the COVID lockdown started.

Moffat's mother spent three weeks in the hospital after breaking her hip and receiving surgery. She was then diagnosed with dementia and was moved to Jubilee. 

"She's had significant transition issues." Moffat said, "Often when she's having a bad day I might get six or eight calls [from her] saying she wants out, she wants to go home."

Moffat says she has noticed a decline in her mother's dementia since COVID-19 has started. 

Moffat said while she's excited about the possibility of seeing her mother, she is concerned about the limited number of two people that will be allowed to visit her. She said her mother has at least three people who could be considered her designated visitors, herself, her sister and her mom's special friend.

"It would be very concerning for him not to be able to see her and concerning for her as well, so do I give up my spot on the airplane so that I wouldn't access her?" Moffat said.

"We're going to have to be really careful on how we make these decisions."

Shaw said that more than two people will be allowed for outdoor visits at facilities. 

With files from Bonnie Allen


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