Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he’s ordered the people who run the city’s nursing homes to find a way to let family members visit residents through windows again.
The four municipal homes’ administrators told families to stop coming to their grounds in letters sent out this week, saying there had been incidents of outdoor visitors not observing distancing rules meant to protect residents from COVID-19.
Dean Lett, the city’s director of long-term care, told Global News there had been incidents of residents and their visitors touching and kissing through window screens.
He said the temporary ban on window visits wasn’t intended to upset families, but staff felt they had to take the step to protect the nearly 700 people who live in Ottawa’s long-term care homes.
No resident in any of the four city-run care facilities has yet tested positive for the virus, though four staff members have.
“COVID-19 in a long-term care home is devastating. It wipes out residents, unfortunately,” Lett said.
“What we’re trying to do in every decision we make is to ensure the safety of residents and staff in our buildings. … We need to take every possible measure to make sure we do that.”
Lett added that with the weather warming, staff are keen to give residents time outdoors, which becomes complicated when visitors are congregating on the grounds and potentially contaminating benches and other furniture with the virus.
The instruction prompted a furor from families who haven’t been allowed in to visit their relatives in weeks, as well as from elected officials.
“That’s just wrong,” Premier Doug Ford told a news conference Thursday when asked about Ottawa’s move.
“They’ve got to think these things through. Go visit your loved ones, as far as I’m concerned. This is critical. And hopefully it won’t be the last time you see them. I’d go to the window.”
Ford and his family have been visiting his mother-in-law, who tested positive for the virus, through windows at her care facility.
Coun. Allan Hubley, who represents Kanata-South, said that as soon as he heard of the decision, he penned a letter to the mayor and the city manager first thing Thursday morning, to see if there was a safe way to allow families to visit their loved ones.
He was glad to see that Watson took action immediately, and emphasized that the city is going to be rolling out a plan for safe visitation as soon as possible.
He noted that the city will be considering perhaps limiting visitation to a certain time period, or a certain window.
“The challenge is, we can’t ask staff to regulate that or enforce it,” Hubley said.
The mayor says he wants a new plan in place by May 7, but Hubley said to expect a plan before then, calling it a “top priority” for city staff.
He also believes there’s a way to safely hold visitations without putting staff and residents at risk.
Lett acknowledged the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on long-term care home residents’ opportunities to connect with their loved ones.
“I go home every day, I get to see my family. That’s not the case for our residents and their families.”
— With files from Craig Lord and Alex MazurView link »