The Fraser Hope Lodge is the community’s only long term care facility. One designated visitor per resident is now allowed, after months of being closed to all visitors. Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard

Hope’s seniors homes grapple with how to open up to visitors

Residents are ‘worn out’ from months without visits from loved ones

None of Hope’s seniors homes have had cases of COVID-19 and each organization is now grappling with how best to organize visits with friends and family heading into the fall and winter season.

The Fraser Hope Lodge, Hope’s only long-term care facility that houses 49 residents and one respite client, had been closed to visitors for close to four months before allowing one visitor per resident starting on July 10. The 30-minute long visits take place in the back courtyard and are supervised by staff.

Visitors to the lodge have to follow a list of guidelines, a spokesperson from Fraser Health stated, including staying two metres away from their loved one. “No touching is allowed and the visitor and resident cannot pass things to each other,” another guideline read.

Provincial restrictions on visitors eased in late June, starting with one designated visitor per patient in B.C. assisted living and long-term care homes.

The aim, according to the B.C. government, was to monitor the slightly eased visitor restrictions with an eye towards expanding this number in August. So far no new information has come out regarding further lifting of restrictions.

This change also allowed personal service providers such as hairstylists to enter these facilities, provided they have completed a Worksafe BC safety plan.

At Hope’s assisted and independent living facility Riverside Manor, manager Virginia Roberts said she would like to see more family be able to see their loved ones inside the manor.

“‘How do I pick one of my five children to be able to visit?’” Roberts said of the kinds of questions residents are asking. Some family members also drive hundreds of miles from home for these visits.

Roberts wants to see an expansion of the one visitor policy as it is safer to have family members who are part of the same bubble, for example, visiting in the facility compared to residents going outside.

According to provincial guidelines, seniors in assisted living homes can leave for social and other activities. For those in long term care homes, they are advised to limit activities outside the facility and only go to essential appointments.

“We need to find a way that people can social distance and still have access to their people without having to go on shopping trips to Walmart with the family to get a bit of a visit,” Roberts said.

In addition to the one designated visitor residents are allowed, Roberts said the manor also has the option for people to visit on either side of a sliding glass door with visitors sitting out on the patio and using baby monitors to talk to their family member inside. And people also visit with residents at their own doors, something Roberts and her staff do their best to supervise. As the weather worsens, she is unsure of how this will all work.

Visits are essential for the health of residents, Roberts said, and having to choose only one visitor means they have family they might never see again. “At this stage of the game, this might be the last time,” Roberts said.

Residents are getting quite worn out at this point, she added, with the lack of human connection and stimulation. “You can see its wearing some people out, they haven’t got that little spark of joy,” she said. “We’ve got to make sure that they’re having some quality of life and the way to do that is family, and having access to family with winter coming is going to be important.”

The staff at Hope’s seniors homes have also been limiting their social interactions, some virtually self-isolating since March. John Duff, who manages the Mount Hope independent living facility (also known as the Park Street Manor), said he hasn’t seen his grandchildren for six months and his residents are still not able to have visitors inside. “It’s frustrating for them…they definitely miss the socializing at meal times,” he said. “It’s hard on everybody.”

In order to be able to allow one designated visitor in, Duff said, “we’d have to declare a certain room and I’d have to hire another employee to monitor that,” adding sanitizing the room between uses would also be required. So for the time being, residents are able to meet with their friends and relatives outside but the manor isn’t able to accommodate anyone visiting inside. “To (have) booking times and have a room set up for them, we don’t have the space or the staff for that.”

The manor also hasn’t been able to open their dining room due to the small space, so residents have their meals delivered to their rooms.

While Hope’s facilities have not yet experienced a COVID-19 outbreak, there are a number of outbreaks across the Fraser Health region which stretches from Burnaby to Boston Bar. As of Sept. 15, there are outbreaks at eight facilities in the health region which include hospitals, independent living, assisted living and long term care facilities.

Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, outbreaks in long-term care homes claimed multiple lives. North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley Care Centre saw the first death from COVID-19 in Canada, and 19 more would die at the facility which prompted the province to enact a host of measures in long-term care homes. In March, these facilities were closed to all but essential visitors.

Read more: Hope care homes, seniors residences close to visitors

Also at the end of June, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the hiring of around 2,000 additional staff for the province’s 680 long-term care and assisted living facilities. These staffers were means to assist in scheduling visits and screening visitors, as well as do infection and prevention control for COVID-19 in the facilities.

Due to the continued COVID-19 outbreaks in care homes across B.C. this spring, Dix also announced that 8,800 staff who had been working at multiple sites were assigned to a single site. Wage increases to ensure ‘equitable wages’ were also announced, changes which were expected to cost the province $10- to $15-million per month.

Roberts said Riverside Manor has added extra staff, but the visits entail a lot of work for staff. Even with this added risk, she wants to see more visitors allowed inside facilities. “It’s probably the best thing for the residents mental health and for risk. I think it will be much less risk if we’re controlling, instead of it being at the malls and the supermarkets where they’re getting their social.”

– with files from Tom Fletcher

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