Isolated long-term care residents left behind in Nova Scotia’s Phase 2 plan, say families

Click to play video: 'Some families calling on province to change restrictions regarding long-term care facilities' Some families calling on province to change restrictions regarding long-term care facilities
As COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease it will be another month before people living in long-term care facilities can visit their loved ones at home and some families are calling on the provincial government to change that. Elizabeth McSheffrey has more. – Jun 16, 2021

While many Nova Scotians enjoy the perks of Phase 2 of the province’s COVID-19 pandemic reopening plan, some families with loved ones in long-term care (LTC) are reeling.

Wednesday’s launch of the second phase provides a few new freedoms for continuing care residents, but coveted visits to the homes of their closest relatives remain off-limits until at least mid-July.

The inability to visit children, spouses and extended family is prolonging their suffering, say families, and contributing to the degrading mental and physical health many seniors have experienced during the pandemic.

READ MORE: COVID-19 vaccine — second dose delay ‘more risky’ for seniors, experts warn

“These people in long-term care have been in isolation for 15 months, probably suffering the longest of anybody throughout this whole COVID pandemic,” said Stefanie Stanislow, whose father Frank resides at the Camp Hill Veterans Memorial Building.

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Under Phase 2, LTC residents are able to enjoy outdoor visits and restaurant drive-thrus with designated caregivers, indoor visits from two designated caregivers at once, along with personal grooming services, recreational programming, and mingling during meals.

Stefanie Stanislow’s father Frank is a resident of the Camp Hill Veterans Memorial Building in Halifax. Courtesy: Stefanie Stanislow

While Public Health officials have said they acknowledge the difficulties faced of many LTC residents and their families, they maintain current restrictions are in place to minimize loss of life and the risk of an outbreak inside facilities.

Families, however, say those risks now pale in comparison to the rewards of granting residents the freedoms other Nova Scotians now enjoy.

“They’re not preserving life anymore,” said Stanislow.

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Stanislow’s daughter Katherine, who worked for more than four years as a music therapist in the continuing care sector, said the government’s “focus on risk has become a clouded judgement” that is no longer in the best interests of the residents.

READ MORE: Families concerned long-term caregiver changes won’t be implemented, and N.S. can’t enforce them

Over the past year, families have shared harrowing stories with Global News of parents in care who have wished for death rather than life under lockdown, or whose physical and mental health has declined so much, they can no longer walk or recognize their own children.

Antigonish-based artist Anne Camozzi said her husband’s condition has deteriorated so severely, he can’t participate in outdoor strolls or recreational programming, because he’s forgetting how to stand up and walk, and doesn’t always remember who she is.

Click to play video: '2 women talk about how it’s like living through a pandemic in nursing home' 2 women talk about how it’s like living through a pandemic in nursing home
2 women talk about how it’s like living through a pandemic in nursing home – Jan 8, 2021

“They have lost so much already, they’ve been locked down for 15 months, and yet we’re going to let the Atlantic Bubble in before we let them come home,” she said.

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Both Camozzi and her husband are fully vaccinated, she pointed out, and while they can’t share a distanced visit on their outdoor deck, it’s possible that partially vaccinated or unvaccinated staff and volunteers may going in and out of LTC facilities.

She raised serious questions about the ethics of the way seniors in long-term care have been treated by the province.

READ MORE: COVID-19 — N.S. changes course, reopening to Atlantic Canada set for June 23

In response to concerns raised by families, the provincial government recently included the right to visitation in LTCs in its Health Protection Act Order and the COVID-19 Management Directive for Long-term Care.

“This means that outdoor visitation is not an optional offering and must now be supported by facilities,” wrote Health and Wellness Department spokesperson Shannon Kerr.

“Safety is the most important aspect of Nova Scotia’s reopening plan, particularly in our long-term care sector. That’s why we will be cautiously and gradually easing restrictions based on the epidemiology.”

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Nova Scotia set to increase long-term care beds – Jan 29, 2021

Despite that change, Halifax resident Karen Lundrigan said the rights and freedoms of her 90-year-old mother in care have been “trampled on by the policy-makers.”

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“It’s not really about the quantity of their life,” she explained. “At this moment in this stage of their life, it’s about the quality of life and they have no quality of life.”

The provincial government can’t force continuing care facilities to implement some of the other loosened restrictions it recommends, and some facilities have previously said they don’t have the physical space, resources or staffing to accommodate changes safely.

Camozzi and many other family members say they don’t blame the homes and they praise the efforts of their hard-working staff.

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