March 17 will be a year since most families saw loved ones in long term care | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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March 17 will be a year since most families saw loved ones in long term care

Brenda Brophy was able to pull her 100-year-old mother, Dot Finnerty (above), out of long term care but thousands of others still can't visit their loved ones in care homes even though most have been vaccinated.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Brenda Brophy

Brenda Brophy and the dozens of people in her Facebook support group don’t want to observe a sad anniversary on March 17. That’s the date last year when most long-term care homes in B.C. were locked down because of COVID-19.

At 6 p.m. on March 17, 2020 she walked out of her mother’s long-term care home as it was being locked down. Cutting off visitation rights is not uncommon in long-term care homes when there are flu or outbreaks of other illnesses.

But this one was different.

“My mom kept saying to me, how long is this going to go on for?” Brophy said. “I said maybe a couple of weeks. I knew that was B.S. but, in my mind, I remember thinking it would probably be four weeks because that would be two incubation periods.”

Instead, for far too many family members, it’s now almost a year since they’ve seen their loved ones in person.

Based on comments made by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry during a March 2 briefing that’s not likely to change before the end of the month.

“We still want to make sure it is safe for everybody in those environments,” Dr. Henry said. “We’ve already, thankfully, seen increased activities within care homes because we’ve had such a high immunization level in care homes. For quality of life that is so, so important. Yes, we expect before the end of this month, to be able to increase visits and have families be together with their loved ones in care homes.”

Brophy, one of the founding members of Families for Change – Stories From Long Term Care, scoffed at those comments.

“Why do you wait until the end of March?” she asked. “For god’s sake, just tell people what they can expect and make this a priority. They’re (health officials) going to sit there and wait. They’re going to say they’re working on it and they’re going to wait and god forbid something happens with these variants and they’re going to say, oh no, we can’t do it now.”

Brophy got so frustrated with the limitations on family visits and the deterioration of her mother’s health that she took her mother out of her Victoria care home to live with her last fall after being told she would not be able to visit unless her mom, who is 100, was “actively dying.”

READ MORE: 'NO TRANSPARENCY': B.C. families denied access to long term care facilities wondering why

“I know 99.9 per cent of people don’t have this option and my heart just breaks for them,” Brophy said.

Despite organizing a rally in Victoria and continuing lobbying efforts, there has been no real change in visiting practices this past year, Brophy said. Care homes routinely turn down requests from family members to become essential visitors and the number of visits per week has not changed, despite the fact that the vast majority of residents and staff have been vaccinated.

Brophy fears that, if Dr. Henry does finally amend the visitation guidelines it will be up to the care home managers and health authorities to interpret them. So far, that’s often meant that family members have been denied access.

“What we need to do is say, OK, we don’t need these restrictions the same as they were,” Brophy said. “Here’s a guideline. It’s important that you allow people back in again and here’s how you’re going to do that. Whatever that looks like. But, to continue to tell families that they’re working on it is just cruel.

“They’ve always said and acknowledged that families have paid the biggest price. Why don’t they show them some respect and actually engage with them and tell them what they’re going to do to mitigate what has happened?

Too many family members have seen the mental and physical health of their loved ones deteriorate as they’ve been kept from visiting or helping with their care.

READ MORE: B.C. woman fighting for 'essential' access to 94-year-old father

Some residents have gone so far as to ask family members to help them commit suicide.

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

Even a major survey and report by B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie failed to sway health authorities into easing restrictions on visits.

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

Brophy has become so frustrated with the lack of change that she’s backed away from the Facebook dialogue somewhat.

“I’m boggled by (the lack of change),” she said. “It’s maybe why I avoid the group a bit because I don’t know what to tell people anymore because I can’t believe it’s still going on.”

Rather than Dr. Henry continuing to say how important this issue is to her and how health officials are working on it, Brophy and hundreds of others, just want to see some change so they can visit their loved ones.

“Just get one person per resident vaccinated and what’s the risk? Let them in their room, let them start to have their family again,” she said. “I think they owe it to families, before the one-year anniversary mark, to say this is how your life is going to start to change and be different after all your sacrifice.”

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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