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Inconsistent COVID-19 visitation rules violate care-home residents’ rights, B.C. group says

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Growing calls for changes to visitation rules in B.C. long-term care homes – Dec 18, 2020

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is calling on the province to revise its COVID-19 restrictions in care homes, warning that seniors’ constitutional rights are being violated.

The group has sent a letter to the province echoing concerns outlined by the province’s seniors advocate and families of residents.

Read more: Long-term care residents would rather see loved ones than be safe from COVID-19, B.C. advocate says

Individual care homes are taking drastically different approaches to the province’s restrictions, including as it relates to who is allowed to visit seniors and how often, the group says.

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That’s having a serious effect on the mental and physical health of residents, said BCCLA lawyer Meghan McDermott.

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“The policy is much too general and much too vague — it doesn’t allow for exceptions to be made,” she said.

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“In the most harmful of circumstances, it’s resulted in people spending the last few weeks of their life or months of their life in complete isolation or maybe only visiting with one relative for about half an hour once a week.”

McDermott said she understands the extreme situation the province is in, and that some limitation of people’s rights is reasonable.

Read more: Get rapid tests into care homes now, says B.C. seniors’ advocate

But the province has not updated its guidelines since June, while knowledge of how the virus spreads and how to control it has evolved since then, she said.

The group is calling on the province to revise its policy to allow essential and social visits when safe, to ensure the policy is applied evenly in all facilities and to roll out rapid testing in the long-term care setting.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry responded to the concerns at her Thursday briefing.

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Henry said the province was focused on protecting the lives of people in long-term care, noting that once the virus gets into a facility it can be “devastating.”

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According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, 398 of B.C.’s 559 total deaths by Dec. 5 (71 per cent) were associated with long-term care outbreaks.

She said the current policy has appeal mechanisms for families concerned about access to their loved ones.

“We’ve been quite clear on what an essential visitor is and recognize the importance of essential visitors and have been working to ensure that those guidance are applied appropriately and consistently,” Henry said.

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

Henry said the province’s current priority was rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine, which is being prioritized for workers at, then residents of, long-term care facilities.

“But it’s going to be some time until we can fill that gap and keep people protected,” she said.

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