B.C. seniors advocate urges province to loosen visit restrictions to care homes

Survey finds senior home residents struggling with isolation, restrictive nature of current visit rules

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A new report from the provincial seniors advocate has painted a sharp picture of how the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the quality of life in B.C.’s long-term care homes in light of visit restrictions.

The report, issued this morning by the office of B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie, surveyed 13,000 residents of long-term/assisted living facilities and affected family members with loved ones in a home.

The results showed how limited the visits are now when compared to non-COVID times, with 30% of the currently allowed visits being restricted to take place outdoors only, 65% being observed by facility staff at all times, and a whopping 70% of visitors who reported not being able to touch their loved ones.

In fact, only 21% of current visits are allowed to take place in the privacy of a senior resident’s own room. That, said Mackenzie, presents a major challenge to the seniors’ quality of life because – prior to COVID - the vast majority of visiting families were performing “essential care” (i.e. personal care, grooming, feeding and mobilization) for their loved ones.

“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 in a statement. “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 noted that while 151 senior-home residents have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began locally in March, more than 4,500 other residents have died during that time from non-COVID causes. Those seniors died living “their final months, weeks and days in relative isolation, unable to spend time with those they loved most,” Mackenzie added.

“The Provincial Health Officer and the Government of B.C. have my profound gratitude for their quick and comprehensive actions at the beginning of this pandemic,” the statement read. “Many lives were undoubtedly saved. However, residents and family members now recognize the pandemic will continue for many more months, and the survey makes it clear they are asking for more time with their loved ones.”

The report also showed other signs of negative health impact at long-term care homes stemming from the isolation, such as a “substantial” increase in the use of anti-psychotic drugs as well as rising instances of weight loss and depression.

As such, Mackenzie is recommending to the provincial government to set a new balance between COVID concerns and senior residents’ mental health needs, allowing social visitors to homes in a way that reflects that new balance. Also, the report recommends that care homes set up designated essential care partners within the homes’ population to mitigate the impact of fewer visits, as well as the creation of an association of resident and family-member councils to keep officials up-to-date.

The full report can be read at the Seniors Advocate BC website.