‘It’s like a jail’: Okanagan seniors in care eager for more freedoms amid COVID-19

‘It’s like a jail’: Okanagan seniors in care eager for more freedoms amid COVID-19

Isolated from their loved ones for nearly four months due to the COVID-19 lockdown, seniors in Okanagan care homes are eager for in-person visits to resume within the next 10 days.

Frank Kantz, 91, lives at the Hamlets assisted living facility in Penticton. He says seniors in care have sacrificed a lot during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’d like to be out free like we used to be,” he told Global News. “It’s like a jail, we can’t go anywhere.”

Being unable to leave the property or see family members in person for several months is taking its toll. Many seniors in assisted or long term living facilities experience isolation and loneliness.

Read more: Coronavirus: B.C. announces new rules on visiting long-term care homes

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“You feel like you are in a prison, right?” said Kantz’s friend, Art Fisher. “It’s not good.”

On Tuesday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced visitation will resume under strict health and safety protocols.

“We know how important it is for our family members in long-term care to receive visits from family, friends and supporters,” said Henry.

“We also know that’s a risk when we have COVID-19 in the community.”

B.C. eases restrictions on visits to long-term care homes
B.C. eases restrictions on visits to long-term care homes

The elderly are in the highest risk category of serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19. More than 100 seniors have died in B.C.

“Once long-term care homes have plans in place and they’re taking the extra precautions needed, I’m so happy to say that we can safely move towards allowing visitors again,” Henry said.

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The provincial visitation requirements will include a single designated visitor in a specific area, visits must be booked in advance, visitors will be screened for signs of illness upon entry, visitors must wear a mask and the facility cannot be in the midst of an outbreak.

Read more: List of seniors’ homes and health-care facilities at centre of B.C.’s coronavirus outbreak

Buron Healthcare, which operates the 152-bed Haven Hill long-term care centre in Penticton, says it will move swiftly to submit its safety plan to the province.

“We want to proceed with caution and make sure that all of the hard work and the sacrifices that our staff and families have made during this difficult time, they are not done in vain,” said Michele Thomson, vice-president of operations.

B.C. relaxes rules on long-term care home visits
B.C. relaxes rules on long-term care home visits

“These visits are likely going to be quite emotional for family members who have been away from their loved ones, for several months in some cases.”

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For family members who have apprehension about the risks of entering a care home during a pandemic, SafeCareBC, a non-profit organization promoting safe work places, is releasing online tools to help visitors become “COVID competent.”

“We know that there is widespread anxiety about being ‘the one’ to bring COVID-19 into a care home,” said CEO Jen Lyle.

Read more: Coronavirus: Outbreak declared at Okanagan long-term care facility

“That’s the same whether you are a care worker or whether you are a family member going in,” she continued, adding it’s important to provide public knowledge and education “so they can take those measures to keep themselves safe, to keep their loved ones safe.”

Health officials say visits could begin in seven to 10 days.

The province is also providing more than $160 million for facilities to hire up to three full-time staff in each of B.C.’s 680 long-term care homes and seniors’ assisted living residences, including both public and private facilities.

This could total as many as 2,040 additional staff dedicated to ensuring infection prevention and control measures for COVID-19 are followed to support safe visitation.