B.C. may have to adjust COVID-19 strategy to get more visitors into long term care homes | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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B.C. may have to adjust COVID-19 strategy to get more visitors into long term care homes

B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/BC Government
November 03, 2020 - 12:15 PM

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has fought COVID-19 by ordering province-wide restrictions. Even in light of the disproportionate spread in the disease in the Fraser Health region she's refused calls to regionalize some of her orders.

Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie argued that needs to change in order to open up long term care homes to more visitors.

“If, over the longer term, we are going to see regional eruptions of cases that are going to inform our province-wide policy, we are never going to get to the point where we’re going to allow additional people to visit,” Mackenzie said during a press briefing today, Nov. 3, to talk about the results of a survey of residents and family members.

Her report summarizes the responses of more than 13,000 people who were mostly residents in long term care homes or family members and was meant to determine how they’ve been affected by Dr. Henry’s banning of most visitors to care homes nine months ago.

Often that meant someone who used to visit three times a week, for example, has not seen their loved one for nine months and may not see them again before they die.

Her report carried three recommendations.

READ MORE: B.C.'s seniors advocate calls on province to make family members of longer-term care residents essential

The first requires no change in provincial policy. That is to make sure there is one essential visitor for each resident.

That is happening now for most residents who are allowed one visitor but those visits are confined to one family member, often in a common area of the facility. The majority of those visits are once a week and half are for only 30 minutes.

Increasing the frequency of those visits does not increase the risk of staff or residents getting COVID-19 because those people are already going into the homes.

Moving them into private rooms would allow for longer visits and less time from staff who now have to move residents in and out of visiting areas and take all the safety precautions which is very time consuming to overburdened staff, Mackenzie said.

And, she noted, there have been no recorded cases of COVID-19 being brought into a long term care home by a visitor.

The second recommendation, however, does increase the risk because it calls for more than one visitor to be allowed in. The number would depend on family dynamics and may mean, for example, one child visiting during one month and another child the next month.

Given the dramatic surge in cases in the Fraser Health region – including outbreaks in care homes – allowing more visitors is a change Dr. Henry may be reluctant to make, Mackenzie suggested.

That’s not totally unprecedented as elective surgeries were cancelled early in the pandemic to free up space in certain hospitals and care homes are locked down on an individual basis if there’s an outbreak, she noted.

Therefore, she argued, rules may need to be different in different regions.

“We need to contemplate that,” Mackenzie said. “We have taken a provincial approach to managing the pandemic and we all have to agree we’ve managed this pandemic relatively well.”

The residents in the homes know they are at risk but also know that they are nearing the end of their lives and want to spend quality time with loved ones. Many are in the last year of their lives and have already gone nine months without seeing many of their family members.

“We are not protecting these people from dying,” she said, noting that while 151 residents of care homes have died of COVID-19, about 4,500 have died from other causes during the same time.

In the meantime, without family to visit, their health seems to be deteriorating. The use of antipsychotic drugs has increased seven per cent since the lockdown was imposed.

In addition, 50 per cent of those who responded to the survey felt their loved ones had declined physically, mentally and/or emotionally after they first got to see them three or four months into the lockdown.

Normally, over that period of time, only 25 per cent of residents would show such a decline from natural causes, she said.

The third recommendation was to form an association that will give a voice to family members who are currently left out of the decision making process.

Mackenzie will meet with government representatives and health officers next week to push for her recommendations to be implemented.

If the response is not positive on all three fronts, she’s willing to use the resources of her office to help pull the many voices of family members and residents together.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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