Jeanette Harper’s 90-year-old mother Marguerite Bell lives at the Eden Gardens nursing home and relies on visits from her two daughters for both her mental health and daily needs.
“I’m my mother’s emotional support. We sit, we look at pictures. I make a cup of tea. I often help her with lunch,” Harper told Global News on Saturday.
“My mother is at a stage where she probably needs assistance feeding, but there’s other people on her unit that need more help, so she’s usually left alone to do that.”
On Friday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry limited long-term care visits to “essential visitors” only as the province experiences a worrisome spike in COVID-19 cases.
Of Bell’s two daughters, however, only Harper has essential visitor status, meaning visits with only one of her children can continue.
“We’re devastated because it’s such a small percentage of residents that actually have a designated essential visitor,” said Harper. “And it’s not something you can get overnight.”
The new rules don’t specify how many essential visitors a long-term care home can allow in, but advise residents to contact their loved one’s facility to find out whether they qualify as essential visitors.
All visitors, meanwhile, are allowed at seniors’ assisted living facilities.
“There’s not enough (staff) to go around, they need family in their to help,” said Harper. “Unfortunately volunteers will no longer be allowed in either, so there will be little activities going on in the care homes.”
Harper’s mother has Alzheimer’s disease and her health “deteriorated greatly” in earlier stages of the pandemic when long-term care home locked down completely. Since she and her sister have been allowed back in, there’s been a “marked improvement,” said Harper.
Given the lessons learned from previous waves, the province ought to have specified that a minimum of two essential visitors are allowed, so each can work around the other’s schedules, she added.
It’s a position shared by the B.C. Care Providers Association, whose CEO, Terry Lake, tweeted Friday that “visitor restrictions in (long-term care) have to be accompanied by mandatory number of essential visitors for every resident.”
The visitor restriction is in place until at least Jan. 18 — a temporary restriction that is necessary for the health and safety of vulnerable residents and staff, said the province.
“We need to decrease the number of people coming into our facilities so that we can best protect our elders, and ensure that workers can best manage and cope,” Henry explained in a Friday news conference.
The province is in the midst of administering booster shots to long-term care residents and staff, and reports 21 per cent of eligible adult British Columbians have received a third dose.
On Saturday, Vancouver Coastal Health declared COVID-19 outbreaks at the Kopernik Lodge retirement home, the Lakeview Long-Term Care Home, and the Joseph & Rosalie Segal Family Health Centre at the Vancouver General Hospital.
A total of 16 residents tested positive across all three facilities.
As of Friday, there were 15 long-term care, acute care, assisted or independent living, and mental health and substance use facilities with outbreaks.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 15,000 people have died in care homes across the country — the highest proportion among all 38 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
With files from The Canadian Press