More New Brunswickers call for ‘heartbreaking’ hospital visitor restrictions to be relaxed

Click to play video: 'N.B. families speaking out about their concerns with hospital visitor restrictions' N.B. families speaking out about their concerns with hospital visitor restrictions
WATCH: Rules have expanded to allow 10 designated visitors for palliative care patients, but families and at least one MLA are asking or restrictions to be relaxed for all patients, for the mental health of their loved ones. Callum Smith has more – Feb 22, 2021

Brenda McEachern is hoping hospital visitation policies in New Brunswick can be relaxed before it’s too late.

“I just want to say how heartbreaking this is, it’s stressful on everybody and their health,” she says.

Her 89-year-old father, Albert, was admitted to The Moncton Hospital nearly six weeks ago.

But since he’s not in the palliative care unit, no visitors are allowed due to COVID-19 protocols.

Albert and Bertha McEachern, shown here on their 64th wedding anniversary, have been separated by COVID-19 visitor restrictions since Albert was admitted to hospital. Courtesy: Brenda McEachern

“Mom is 92, and not able to go in to see him,” she tells Global News. “It’s breaking her heart… It’s breaking our hearts.”

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Albert, a firefighter of more than 40 years, has been married to Bertha McEachern for 64 years.

Brenda says she understands strict protocols are needed to minimize COVID-19 concerns, but suggests a negative COVID-19 test and wearing all necessary personal protective equipment should allow for a safe visit.

Read more: Moncton daughters granted permission to visit with their mother in palliative care

She says Albert’s dementia and the hospital rules are making it incredibly difficult for the family.

“There’s got to be a way that they can make it safe for mom to go in,” she says. “I would like to go in, but I’m concerned about my mother, her health — and Dad’s… he’s gone downhill since he’s been in there.

“Do we wait until they go to palliative, and they don’t know — like, he might not know mom, he might not know who’s there to visit him if you wait to go to palliative.”

The People’s Alliance MLA for Miramichi, Michelle Conroy, is hoping for similar rule changes.

Conroy says she’s heard from dozens of families in similar situations.

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All patients should be allowed designated visitors, with strict precautions, Conroy says.

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“We’ve been told from the beginning that (COVID-19) was going to be around for a long time, and we’ve been told that we’re going to have to learn to live with it, there’s going to be cases,” she says. “We’ve been told that from public health, we’ve been told that from government… so we have to do just that.”

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard was asked last week about loosening restrictions.

She said “it’s not easy” and “our hearts go out to everyone who have been put in this situation.”

“Protecting our most vulnerable is what this is all about,” she said.

Officials are working with the health authorities to “find a path forward,” Shephard said.

“Every effort is being made to get families, certainly at end of life, and we will continue to progress that,” Shephard said at a COVID-19 briefing Thursday.

Shephard said “more news” could come this week, but didn’t elaborate.

Meanwhile, Deborah van den Hoonaard, a professor emerita at St.Thomas University’s gerontology department, and a former Canada Research Chair, says the restrictions are “unfortunate.”

“I understand why the health authorities did this, particularly at the beginning, but I think that by now, they should have figured out something,” she says.

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van den Hoonaard, whose research focuses on aging, gender and “ageism,” says she believes government isn’t talking to the families and people who are dying.

“Saying we’re just protecting our most vulnerable just takes completely away their own ability to make decisions for themselves. Just because they’re dying tomorrow doesn’t mean they don’t have a relationship with their family, that they can’t make up their own minds,” van den Hoonaard says in a Zoom interview. “[Minister Shepard] is talking about them as if they’re children and they can’t make decisions.”

“That really takes away all their dignity,” she says. “She’s talking about them as if the only thing that matters is their physical reality, not their social reality, not their spiritual reality.”

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