COVID-19 has had no impact on death rates in B.C. long term care homes | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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COVID-19 has had no impact on death rates in B.C. long term care homes

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October 02, 2020 - 6:30 AM

While the dozens of COVID-19 deaths in long term care homes in B.C. have been tragic, statistics from the Ministry of Health show there's been no real increase in deaths compared to other years.

For the first half of this year, until the end of June, there were 34,734 people living in publicly funded long term care beds, according to Ministry of Health statistics.

So far this year, 4,787 have died, a mortality rate of 13.78 per cent. While that’s up a bit from last year (13.48 per cent) and 2018 (13.72 per cent) it’s actually down from the 14.2 per cent rate in 2017.

The numbers suggest COVID-19 may have replaced other causes of death among the 166 residents who died in care facilities from the disease — not added.

“The populations in long term care, most of them are in the last couple of years of their lives,” B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie told She said between 21 and 25 per cent of long term care beds “turn over” each year. Most of those are due to people dying. 

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control lists 166 of B.C.’s 229 COVID-19 deaths as of Sept. 24, as being in care facilities, which includes long term care as well as acute care and independent living.

While B.C.'s efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 has no doubt kept those numbers at bay, some people are expecting that one side effect may soon enter the equation, if it hasn't already — restrictions on visitors to long term care residents.

Many family members from across B.C. have described dramatic weight loss because family members haven’t been allowed in as essential visitors to help feed and care for the residents.

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

Others have talked about the mental anguish suffered by residents who are largely confined to their rooms.

READ MORE: It’s too late for this pandemic isolated long-term care patient but his wife fights on for others

But the reality is that we may never know the true impact of the unintended consequences of the COVID-19 lockdown.

“It’s going to be difficult to capture, the way you’ve got people moving through, if someone’s dying eight weeks prematurely,” Mackenzie said. “There are a lot of moving parts here and we’re not going to be able to form, with data, the picture completely. Or, if we are able to, it’s going to be looking back on it from a further distance.”

One of those leading the charge to open care homes up to more visitors is Brenda Brophy, one of the administrators of the Families for Change – Stories from Longterm Care Facebook group that organized a rally at the provincial Legislature that drew about 75 protesters earlier this week.

She argued that the data to June 30 does not truly reflect what’s happening since the deterioration of residents’ health is a long, gradual process that will more likely show up in more recent data.

Her 100-year-old mother dropped from 33 kilograms in March to a bit over 29 in the first three months of the lockdown. Brophy has now taken her home to live with her.

“By the time I saw my mom on June 8, she was like a skeleton,” Brophy said. “I hadn’t noticed that over video chats. If I had not seen her and realized, she might have been one of those statistics just from simply starving to death.”

The protesters want Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to allow more essential visitors to help with feeding and other care along with more social visits, which are now limited to one family member per resident and can be for as little as 30 minutes once a week.

Mackenzie is conducting a survey that will try to capture an accurate picture of what is happening in care homes during the lockdown. With more than 13,000 respondents it should show any changes that death statistics alone do not reflect.

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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