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People wait to be screened before entering Little Mountain Place, a long-term care home in Vancouver, on January 3, 2021.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

British Columbia’s ombudsperson is calling on the province to make its policy on long-term care visits fair and consistent after receiving complaints from those trying to see loved ones during the pandemic.

Jay Chalke said Monday he welcomes the Provincial Health Officer’s recent order that legally requires all long-term care homes to apply the visitor policy issued last month by the Health Ministry.

While Bonnie Henry’s order expressly anticipates changes to the policy may be needed, Mr. Chalke said he wants the ministry to make improvements because of his concerns about how it’s being implemented.

He called for mandatory timelines for decisions made by facility staff on requests for visits as well as for each stage of an appeals process. Care homes should also provide written reasons when visits are denied or restricted, he added.

“These shortcomings are unnecessarily amplifying an already difficult situation,” he said in a news release.

COVID-19 hit dozens of long-term care homes in the province and the outbreaks are responsible for the majority of deaths since the pandemic began.

B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie said all care-home residents are entitled to an essential visitor, but some are only allowed one “designated” or social visitor who is denied access to the resident’s room.

Ms. Mackenzie said the decision on visitors should be left up to residents or whoever speaks for them, which she highlighted in a report in November.

“What we have is guidelines in place that allow for an essential visitor, but that does not guarantee that a resident will be allowed the essential visitor,” she said Monday.

The public health order issued Friday stipulates that residents who have an essential visitor should also get a designated or social visitor, Ms. Mackenzie said, adding the issue has caused confusion for care-home operators and the Fraser Health Authority in particular.

Ms. Mackenzie said families that have not been allowed an essential visitor have called her office to express their frustration and she’s concerned that those who have always helped feed and care for their loved ones have been treated as “an issue to be managed.”

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