B.C.’s seniors advocate says she is supporting a search for ways to safely reopen long-term care homes to some visitors as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to drag on.
Isobel Mackenzie said Sunday that with provincial health officials warning of a “new normal” that could last for at least a year, it’s important to consider ways to ensure seniors aren’t being neglected or isolated.
“I support the approach that says we find a way to safely allow family back into care homes,” she told reporters.
“It won’t look like it did, I think we can all agree with that. But one of the very important pieces is that families are able to support their loved ones in the care home.”
Over 20 long-term care homes have seen outbreaks of COVID-19 since the pandemic reached B.C. in early February. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Saturday that 11 of those outbreaks have now been resolved.
The majority of the 100 deaths from the disease so far in B.C. have been linked to seniors’ care facilities.
Only “essential visits” have been allowed in care homes for over a month now, at Henry’s orders. That’s prompted many facilities to bar visitors altogether, including to family members — even when residents have fallen ill with COVID-19.
Mackenzie said she is also working to ensure all care homes are aware that families can be exempt from the provincial restrictions on visitors in the event that residents are nearing the end of their life.
More support for family caregivers
Mackenzie on Sunday announced the province would provide an additional $500,000 in funding to the non-profit Family Caregivers of B.C., doubling the typical government investment.
The funding will be primarily for increasing the organization’s helpline and providing virtual connections for caregivers who are seeking support.
Mackenzie said those connections have become more vital during the pandemic, which has forced daily respite programs to shut down. Many families have been unable to bring respite workers into their homes, she added, and primary caregivers have nowhere to go otherwise.
“I know the help you really need right now is some relief from your caregiving duties and some time for yourself, and that’s incredibly challenging to provide to you right now and I am very sorry about that,” she said.
Mackenzie said it’s crucial for caregivers to reach out to the hotline by calling 211, or visiting the organization’s website.
“Please don’t try to shoulder this burden alone,” she said.
Home care workers and those in long-term facilities say they are struggling to keep themselves safe from contracting the virus, particularly in gaining access to personal protective equipment supplies.
A survey last week found 70 per cent of roughly 500 workers polled across B.C. were seeing a “critical” shortage of supplies, with nearly the same number saying they expected to run out of masks, gloves and other equipment in three days.
A follow-up survey released Saturday found the situation had improved somewhat, but that members were still seeing gaps.
Forty-two per cent of those surveyed now say they only have a three-day supply of equipment, while 40 per cent say they could run out of gloves within a week.
Mackenzie said she’s been assured that workers in publicly-funded facilities are getting the supplies they need, though not at the rate they’re used to.
“Certainly we could give greater comfort with care homes having two or three weeks worth of supplies, though that is not always possible,” she said.
She said those outside the public system can be assured that supplies are available through the provincial supply chain, though possibly not at the rate they feel is necessary.