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Quebec private seniors’ homes have mixed feelings about easing of restrictions

Coronavirus: Quebec seniors have mixed emotions about newfound freedom after easing of restrictions
WATCH: For seniors living in private retirement homes, the last seven and a half weeks in confinement have been long. On Tuesday, the Quebec Government eased some of the restrictions on retirement homes, and as Global's Dan Spector reports, seniors he spoke to are enjoying their newfound freedom.

On Wednesday, Marcel and Dan Mueller took a walk with their elderly parents for the first time in two months. Up until now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, they had only been able to shout up to their balcony at the Maxwell Residence in Baie d’Urfé in the West Island

“It’s the first kind of human contact we’ve had from the same level as opposed to the third floor,” said Dan Mueller.

“Oh, it’s wonderful,” exclaimed his father, Walter Mueller.

Quebec announced Tuesday that people can now visit loved ones at private seniors residences outdoors from a distance of two metres.

READ MORE: Quebec to soften coronavirus-related rules for seniors in private residences

“It’s time for them to go out. Otherwise, they have too much anxiety and psychological distress,” Quebec Seniors’ Minister Marguerite Blais told Global News.

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Residents at private homes can now also leave without supervision and take their cars out.

Maxwell Residence has had zero COVID-19 cases, and the lighter rules worry its owner.

“Definitely if they go out, it means they are increasing the risk,” said Farzad Shodjai, who owns and manages Maxwell Residence.

Shodjai and Maxwell residents pointed to the leadership of head nurse Marlene Chislett as a key catalyst for keeping the virus out of the facility. Chislett has five decades of nursing experience, including knowledge of infectious diseases.

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She advised Maxwell to enforce strict measures before the province did.

“Right away, when it was in British Columbia, we said, ‘we’ve gotta be safe here,” Chislett told Global News.

Visitors were limited early on, and she says residents have been very good at practicing social distancing.

Shodjai said early on, staff were told they would not be allowed to work in other facilities if they wanted to work at Maxwell.

“We said they have to make a choice, either here or somewhere else,” he told Global News. “Our staff exclusively are working here the last two or two-and-a-half months.”

Chislett thinks the Quebec government is moving a bit too fast to soften measures for seniors’ homes.

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READ MORE: Ontario seniors discuss isolation amid coronavirus pandemic

Some residents at Maxwell seem to agree with her. Anne Cruickshank, 84, says she would love to enjoy the spring air outside the grounds, but isn’t sure if she wants to.

“Everyday there are more people who have COVID-19, our hospitals are overloaded, and I don’t want to get it. I want to stay safe,” Cruickshank said.

For its part, Groupe Sélection, which owns 43 private seniors’ residences in Quebec, was happy to hear seniors would be allowed to leave their homes. Sélection does not own Maxwell.

“As long as they follow the two-metre distance, that should be fine,” said Mylène Dupéré, Groupe Sélection’s vice-president of public affairs.

“They’ve asked that we trust them, they tell us ‘we will follow the measures,’ and we will trust them.”

Dupéré says many residents are happy to regain some independence, but they will have to resist the temptation to get close to others.

“Especially on the eve of Mothers’ Day, when families come see you, the first thing you want to do is hug them, but you can’t hug them,” said Dupéré.

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Maxwell resident Bill Cosgrove says he’s greatly missed hugging his grandson.

“I’ve got a little three-year-old grandson, and I want to hug him, and he can’t understand why he can’t hug me,” Cosgrove told Global News. He also said he wasn’t entirely sure about the safety of leaving Maxwell yet.

“We really feel safe here,” Cosgrove said.

Chislett thinks residents can safely go for a walk around the neighbourhood while keeping their distance, but advises them not to go shopping.

“Going for a walk, driving your car around the neighborhood is fine, but to go to a store, I’m not too thrilled about that,” she said.

She plans to keep underlining the importance of social distancing, hand washing, and masks.