B.C. woman pushed to the breaking point dealing with husband's 'unacceptable' long-term care | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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B.C. woman pushed to the breaking point dealing with husband's 'unacceptable' long-term care

This photo was taken of Francisco Covelli last year before he lost at least 10 pounds when his wife was not allowed to feed him in his long term care home during COVID-19.
Image Credit: Submitted/Cleonice Biondi
July 21, 2020 - 7:00 AM

Cleonice Biondi is not only fighting to keep her husband healthy in his long term care home but also for her own quality of life and wonders why health authorities are making life so difficult for her.

In mid-March, like so many others, she was banned because of COVID-19 from visiting her husband, Francisco Covelli, in the Residence in a Mission long term home, despite having spent more than two years visiting him daily to feed him breakfast, take him on outings and bring some home cooked food in the evenings. He suffers from Alzheimer’s.

It took until mid-May for a staff member to call her to let her know that Covelli had lost nine or 10 pounds since she last saw him. He was only about 135 pounds to start with.

“When I heard he had lost all that weight, I lost it with them,” Biondi said. “I told them: ‘This is unacceptable. Excuse me, you’re not even charting the fact that someone’s not eating?’ The floor manager said we don’t always chart when they eat. I said: ‘No you don’t have to chart if they’re eating. You have to chart when they’re not eating so you know if they’re losing weight.’”

Then they told her he was acting up and turning angry and combative so they wanted to move him to a psychiatric facility in White Rock, about an hour’s drive away.

“I can understand why he would (act up),” Biondi said. “The frustration that goes with not being understood. He has reverted to Italian so no one could understand what he was saying. Not eating, not sleeping and having a neural degenerative disease. It’s just very difficult for him to understand what’s going on. Suddenly I’m gone. People are wearing masks.”

They did allow her to visit for four days in June but, she suspects, they had ulterior motives.

“They called me to say, if you want to come in, because we have to see if you can help adjust his sleep pattern,” Biondi said. “I couldn’t have done that in four days. I believe they just wanted to see if he was going to be violent with me. When I did go in, he was fine with me. I cut his hair and toenails, no problem. Obviously, he was frustrated with everyone else.”

Still, he wasn’t eating and continued to lose weight.

Biondi was finally declared an essential visitor two weeks ago – something she could have been from the start even under COVID-19 rules because she was essential to getting him to eat and communicate.

But, she was only allowed in under strict rules that were set by the “team” at the facility that included managers, a doctor and representatives of Fraser Health.

“Managers at the care homes have way too much power,” she said. “Fraser Health should have something (about essential visitors) across the board. Any health authority should say these are the rules and this is how it goes.”

READ MORE: Speaking up for long term care residents almost cost this woman her home

When asked if there were clear written rules on essential visitors, Fraser Health sent a link to a government document that says the facility or health authority are to decide who qualifies as essential. Those are allowed under broad categories that include feeding and communication.

For Biondi that meant, other than those four days in June, she wasn’t allowed to see him until about two weeks ago. Now she’s only allowed to go in at 4:45 p.m. and stay through the evening to help him get to bed. Since she’s not allowed to take any food in, that prevents her from having her own dinner.

One day, a staff member called to say he was upset and crying and allowed her to go in at 4. The next day, Biondi was told by a manager that she was absolutely not to go in before 4:45.

“They don’t consider your needs,” she said. “I’ve asked them, please split my visits. I’m going in seven days a week. It’s crazy. I’m getting worn out. Can I please come in at lunch time and split it up? Do some lunch hours and some dinner hours? And they said they’re going to review me every two weeks to see if I’m allowed in or not.”

On top of that is the threat that they will move Covelli to the Oceanside facility in White Rock.

On the Fraser Health website, Oceanside is described as a “24-bed, acute-care facility for people over 65 years of age with serious mental illness or age-related psychiatric disorders who may pose a risk to themselves or others.”

Covelli cannot communicate with staff because they don’t know Italian, so he’s frustrated, not mentally ill, his wife argued.

“They immediately want to ship people off,” Biondi said. “When you see that someone is becoming frustrated, you need to adjust his medication. You need to get a psychiatrist in. You need to do something here to try to stabilize him before you decide that you’re going to ship him off.”

She’s hoping, if they do decide to move him to Oceanside, there will not be an opening right away so she will have time to hire a lawyer to fight Fraser Health.

READ MORE: B.C. long term care homes facing lawsuits for refusing to allow essential family visits

She vows to continue on even though she thinks Fraser Health is trying to break her.

“In a lot of cases they’re dealing with spouses who are much older and maybe not as feisty,” Biondi said. “They like people to just come in and be quiet. They don’t like me because I won’t be quiet. If I see things are not done right, I’m going to speak.”

READ MORE: Fear of retaliation keeping people from speaking about issues in B.C.'s long-term care homes

Right now, Covelli is calmer and seems to be stabilizing so Biondi holds out hope that he will remain close to her. But, she still wants Fraser Health to understand that they need be more willing to accommodate the needs of essential visitors.

“We should let people know what’s going on (with the treatment of essential visitors),” she said. “It’s widespread and it needs to stop. The government needs to take a look at this.”

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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