Rena Phillips visits her husband Frank at Nanaimo Seniors Village on their 61st wedding anniversary March 31, 2020. Patient visits have been restricted to essential only in the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nanaimo News Bulletin)

Rena Phillips visits her husband Frank at Nanaimo Seniors Village on their 61st wedding anniversary March 31, 2020. Patient visits have been restricted to essential only in the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nanaimo News Bulletin)

B.C. seniors worry more about death from loneliness than COVID-19

More visits allowed than most people think under pandemic restrictions

Seniors in B.C. long-term care and assisted living facilities are seeing reduced visits and missing out on the volunteer care as well as the companionship they provide, a new survey by B.C.’s Seniors Advocate has found.

All non-essential visits were stopped in March after outbreaks in senior homes began occurring, and effective June 28, one “social” visitor was allowed in addition to essential visits. A survey of 13,000 people from all B.C. health regions through August and September found a significant drop in frequency and duration of visits, and widespread misunderstanding of public health rules relating to visitors.

The results show that more care home residents and relatives are concerned about dying of loneliness than from COVID-19, Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie said in the report, released Nov. 3

“When the visit restrictions were amended at the end of June, many family members thought they would once again take up their role as a vital care partner for their loved one,” Mackenzie said in the report. “However, two months after visit restrictions were relaxed, the survey found the majority of current visits are only once per week or less and many of these visits are 30 minutes or less, Prior to the pandemic, most family members were visiting several times a week or daily for much longer periods of time.”

The survey results suggest “essential” visits have been too strictly interpreted by care home staff and frequent visitors. The report says essential visits have been defined by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, in addition to the designated “social” visitor. Essential visits “can include, but are not limited to” assistance with feeding, mobility, personal care, communication, and “compassionate care including critical illness, palliative care, hospice care, end of life and medical assistance in dying.”

Decisions on who qualifies as an essential visitor were left to individual care homes to determine. Of the 13,000 survey respondents, 14 per cent said they were essential visitors. Fewer than half (48 per cent) of respondents were made aware of the potential for essential visits, only 42 per cent of respondents applied or had another family member apply for essential visits, and almost half (45 per cent) of the essential visit applications were denied.

RELATED: COVID-19 exposed senior care already in crisis

RELATED: Senior home residents organize to oppose restrictions

“When we started visit restrictions, the goal was to ensure residents in long-term care and assisted living were kept safe from COVID-19,” Mackenzie said. “Eight months later, we need to ask the question: What are we keeping them safe for if it is not to enjoy the time they have left with the ones they love?”

Mackenzie makes three recommendations:

• Allow all residents to designate an essential care partner

• Allow social visitors to determine the number allowed by balancing the risk to a resident’s health from the long-term family separations

• Create a provincial association of long-term care and assisted living residents and family councils.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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