Amherstburg woman has mixed feelings about Ontario's long-term care home visitation rules

Now that the province is allowing loved ones to visit their elderly relatives at long-term care facilities, Julie Gibb says she's nervous about seeing her father in-person because of the strict conditions imposed by the provincial government.

Julie Gibb fears by wearing a mask, her father won't recognize her

Julie Gibb hasn't seen her father Bill, pictured, in-person in three months, due to COVID-19. (Submitted by Julie Gibb)

Julie Gibb hasn't seen her 81-year-old father, who lives with Alzheimer's and dementia, in three months since visits at most long-term care homes were suspended due to COVID-19.

Now that the Ontario Progressive Conservative government is allowing LTC residents to be allowed one outdoor visit per week with a single visitor, the Amherstburg woman said she's nervous about seeing her father Bill in-person.

"I'm glad that we can finally see our loved ones," she said. "Three months is a long time to go without seeing somebody, especially a familiar face, especially I think if you have Alzheimer's or dementia."

"I have to wear a mask. I worry that he's not actually going to recognize me." 

"It's going to be really hard because he really he's a touchy guy. He's very emotional and he's going to want to hug me. He's gonna want to hold my hand and I'm gonna have to sit two metres away," she said.

Gibb also said it's going to be challenging not being able to bring her father's dog to the visits.

"We've had window visits in the last three months and he's so happy to see his dog," she said.

Julie Gibb, left, says she's worried her father won't recognize her when she wears a mask. (Submitted by Julie Gibb)

Gibb added that the government has done an excellent job at keeping people, like her father, alive, but that still isn't enough.

"I think at this stage of your life, merely being kept alive and not having any quality of life and no access to the people that you love or that love you — or that could probably bring you some comfort and make you feel reassured — isn't right," Gibb said.

"I know for a fact that's not how he wants to live all of his life ... He doesn't care if he gets a virus. He'd rather be able to see us and his dog."

Must be tested negative within two weeks

The Ontario government made the long-term care announcement last week, but the new measure comes with several strict conditions for visitors — one being that visitors must have tested negative for coronavirus in the past two weeks.

Karen Riddell, vice president for critical care cardiology, stroke, trauma and clinical support services at Windsor Regional Hospital (WRH), said testing centres weren't prepared for the announcement on such short notice.

"After months of not being able to visit their loved ones in long-term care, rest and retirement homes, there has been a rush to our testing centres across Windsor-Essex," she said, adding that people have had to wait two hours to get tested.

Bill Gibb pictured holding his dog MacDuff. (Submitted by Julie Gibb)

"I know both Erie Shores and Windsor Regional Hospital testing centres have seen almost double the volumes that they normally would over the last few days since that announcement came through."

Riddell said additional staff have been added at WRH starting Thursday to help with the flow through the clinic, as well as to lower wait times.

"As well, we have two different streams for people. Those people coming in ... for testing that just require it as part of the long-term care and rest home visitation ... [and] another stream dedicated to those that are symptomatic," she said.

Karen Riddell, vice president of critical care, regional stroke, cardiology, trauma and clinical support services with Windsor Regional Hospital, says Erie Shores HealthCare and Windsor Regional Hospital testing centres have seen almost double the volume of people since the Ontario government's long-term care announcement made last week. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Under normal circumstances, Riddell said, the hospital conducts between 120 to 150 tests on a full-deck weekday and 30 to 50 on a Saturday or Sunday. However, these numbers jumped to about 300 on a weekday and 170 on Saturday and Sunday.

"Unfortunately, because the clinic itself actually closes down at 6 p.m., similar to a walk-in clinic, at a certain point, your clinic is already full and you're not going to be able to process any more people," she said.

"We are trying to triage people that are waiting in line, so we're not turning away anybody that's symptomatic, trying to keep people informed. But unfortunately, we have had to close down ... the clinic to any more people coming in at around 4 p.m."

Julie Gibb says her father moved into Richmond Terrace in early March where they celebrated his 81st birthday. (Submitted by Julie Gibb)

She said the additional staff has "significantly improved the flow."

"We didn't have a heads up that it was coming, but we're doing our best to kind of respond to that, so that we can get people through."

Time your tests

Riddell urged people to coordinate the timing of their tests with their planned visits.

"[What] you want to do is obviously time your test for when you're going to be having your appointment. If you've got an appointment in five or six days, make sure you're getting in for testing today or tomorrow," she said.

Bill Gibb lives with Alzheimer's and dementia, according to his daughter Julie Gibb. (Submitted by Julie Gibb)

"If you're not going to be visiting for two weeks, don't go too early because your results have to be obtained within that two week period prior to your visit."

At retirement homes, the restrictions are far more relaxed. Both outdoor and indoor visits will be permitted, including ones in resident suites — and the maximum number of visitors can be decided by each home.

With files from Sanjay Maru and Katerina Georgieva