If B.C. finally changes visitation rules in long term care homes, it may come from this survey | Kelowna News | iNFOnews

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If B.C. finally changes visitation rules in long term care homes, it may come from this survey

A rally organized by Families for Change - Stories From Longterm Care drew about 75 people to the Legislature in Victoria yesterday, demanding improved access to their loved ones in care.
Image Credit: Submitted/Families for Change - Stories From Longterm Care
September 30, 2020 - 6:00 PM

More than 13,000 people have responded to B.C. Senior Advocate Isobel Mackenzie’s survey of life in long term care homes under COVID-19.

The deadline for submitting the questionnaires is midnight tonight, Sept. 30.

The large response rate — equivalent to one response for every three people in long term care — will provide hard data from dozens of questions that range from how often people were visited before the pandemic to whether they can touch or kiss their loved ones now.

One of the big issues troubling many family members is the decline they see as their loved ones may not be eating and are failing mentally because of their isolation.

READ MORE: B.C. care aide forced to quit to care for her own mother after steep decline under COVID lockdown

“I think it is a question many are posing,” Mackenzie told iNFOnews.ca. “What are we protecting people for if not to enjoy the years of their life, particularly in the long term care population?”

When the first outbreak hit at the Lynn Valley Care Centre early in the pandemic, 52 residents were infected and 20 died. That led to the lockdown of all long term care homes in B.C., leaving them open to essential visitors only.

That’s not unusual as such facilities are often locked down during flu season or when there are other respiratory disease outbreaks.

What is different with COVID-19 is that the lockdown has now lasted more than six months with only a slight easing of visitation restrictions. Family members are worried that their loved ones will die earlier and alone if they can't get in to not only visit them but to also help with their care.

“The underlying motivation is to protect somebody,” Mackenzie said. “We have to remember that. But, I think we are looking at the length of time we’re clearly going to be living with this virus. I think is going to cause a lot of things to be reframed. What are we going to do for the next year or 18 months is a different question than what are we going to do for the next three months.”

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that the lockdown is harming residents as much or more than COVID-19 would.

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

Some seniors have even asked for help with assisted suicide because their quality of life has deteriorated so much.

But, allowing more visitors comes with risks.

“I think that’s the balancing act.” Mackenzie said, noting that, while many COVID-19 outbreaks in care homes were limited to a single staff member, if it does spread in a long term care home there can be a high mortality rate.

The survey should give a much clearer picture of what is actually happening in these locked down facilities as compared to the fears raised by those frustrated about not being allowed in.

READ MORE: Locked in long term care 'prison:' Woman asks for assisted suicide rather than continue in COVID-19 isolation

“Given the number of responses that we are getting — from a statistical analysis perspective we call that the law of big numbers and 13,000 is a big number — if there’s a pronounced pattern, it’s going to show and we’re going to have confidence in it.”

The question will be whether it’s too late for some families.

A rally was held at the provincial Legislature yesterday, Sept. 29. Organized by Families for Change - Stories From Longterm Care who wanted to press home the need for more visits from family members of residents in long term care homes.

But it may take the release of Mackenzie’s survey results before any changes are made.

She expects to have those out before the end of October but not until after the Oct. 24 provincial election.

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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