A B.C. health authority is being accused of Grinch-like behaviour over a COVID-19 safety directive issued to residential care homes.
In a recent bulletin with holiday infection control and prevention guidelines, Fraser Health has instructed the facilities to remove any holiday decorations that aren’t wipeable or cleanable, and to remove decorations and trees from common areas where they could be touched by residents.
Decorations are also barred from nursing stations, counters and workspaces, which must be left clear for cleaning staff to disinfect.
And “Santa, Ronald McDonald, clowns ect. do not meet essential visitor requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the bulletin notes.
BC Care Providers Association CEO Terry Lake called the move overkill, and said the move is hard on the mental health of residents who have been in virtual “solitary confinement” for the better part of a year.
“It’s profoundly sad at a time when people have been separated from their families for the better part of a year, now they’re being told that they have to have Christmas decorations removed from their rooms,” Lake said.
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“For many of our seniors in care, this will be their last home, and their last Christmas. To make it into a sterile environment, does not really I think hold up with the evidence on surfaces and the spread of the virus.”
Lake said COVID-19 is primarily entering care homes via staff members who are infected in the community.
He said Fraser Health would get better results from screening staff to catch asymptomatic carriers than by removing decorations.
Other B.C. health regions were not taking the same approach to holiday decorations, Lake added.
Fraser Health has been particularly had hit by the virus. Fifty-four of the 79 deaths B.C. recorded in the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5 were in care homes in the health region.
Thirty-seven of B.C.’s 58 care home outbreaks are in the region, and Fraser Health has stepped in to oversee two Abbotsford facilities with particularly severe outbreaks.
Catherine Ferguson, general manager of Chartwell Langley Gardens seniors’ home, said the guidelines had forced her staff to be creative, but hadn’t dampened the holiday spirit.
Staff at the facility were able to find a location to place a Christmas tree where it couldn’t be touched, and focused their decorations on the fireplace and the building’s courtyard.
“This entire year we’ve had restrictions that have come down to keep our residents safe and at the end of the day, that is our number one priority,” she said.
“We can get creative with those restrictions and follow all of the safety protocol and still be able to put up decorations that bring joy and that make the building feel very festive.”
But Lake says his organization, which represents privately-operated care homes, has received complaints from a number of its members, and that Fraser Health could have done a better job of balancing safety with residents’ wellbeing.
In a statement, Fraser Health said the directive applies to all of its facilities and services, long-term and acute care settings, and are necessary to “protect the health and safety of our patients, residents, staff, and medical staff.”
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