B.C. Ombudsperson supports updating long-term care visit policy

Ombudsperson Jay Chalke releases his report into the terminations of Ministry of Health employees in 2012 during a press conference in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, April 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

British Columbia’s Ombudsperson is calling on the B.C. government to ensure the long-term care visitation policy is implemented fairly across health authorities.

Jay Chalke is the latest watchdog to call on the province to change the policy. Currently, every long term care resident is legally entitled to an essential visitor but the process of approving essential visitors is being dealt with inconsistently across the province.

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“I welcome the provincial health order issued last Friday that legally requires all long-term care facilities – public and private – to apply the visits policy issued last month by the Ministry of Health,” Chalke said.

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“However, as a result of complaints to my office that we investigated, I continue to have concerns about the associated ministry policy and how it is being implemented. The Provincial Health Officer’s order expressly anticipates that amendments to the Ministry of Health policy may be required and I am calling on the ministry to make needed improvements.”

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The province has continually committed to ensuring care residents have access to an essential visitor. For now, visitors are allowed limited visits both in time and frequency. Each long-term care resident is only allowed one visitor.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said the province will be reviewing the overall visitation policy by mid-March to account for the increased rates of COVID-19 vaccinations for residents and staff.

Chalke is calling on three specific changes:

  • Mandatory timelines for visit-related decision-making by facility staff, and for each stage of the appeals process in order to ensure timely outcomes.
  • A specific requirement that a person whose visits are denied or restricted be provided brief written reasons for the decision by the facility operator, which helps the impacted individual understand the rationale for the denial and to decide whether an appeal is warranted.
  • Consistent and easy to access public information about the public health order, policy and process. Currently, information continues to be difficult to locate on health authority and the Ministry of Health websites and is not up to date on some of these sites.
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“It’s important that the requirements of timely decisions and written reasons be expressly added to the Ministry of Health policy because that way they are made binding by the Provincial Health Officer’s new order,” Chalke said.

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“These shortcomings are unnecessarily amplifying an already difficult situation.”

The Ombudsperson has previously raised concerns with Henry’s office. Chalke’s office received multiple fairness complaints about the patchwork of public health orders and decision-making approaches rather than a province-wide approach and procedures for making and evaluating visit requests and communicating the resulting decisions.

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