Last month, Dale Edwards was given a choice: stay with her mother, who is 96 and living in a long-term care centre in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood, or leave and don’t come back – at least, not until the risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic have lessened or disappeared.
For Ms. Edwards, who is 71 and has been visiting her mother nearly every day for the past decade, it was an easy decision.
“It took me about one second to say, ‘Of course, I’m going to stay,’” Ms. Edwards said Thursday in a telephone interview.
So she stayed put, sleeping each night on the floor on a fold-up mattress a friend delivered to the residence and doing sit-ups and walking the aisles of the facility, often pushing her mother, Diana Edwards, in a wheelchair for exercise.
But the arrangement ended Thursday, after Vancouver Coastal Health determined Ms. Edwards did not qualify for an exemption to the current ban on visitors.
“Vancouver Coastal Health understands the importance of visits from family and loved ones to our long-term care residents and we appreciate everyone’s support in keeping our most vulnerable population safe at this time,” Vancouver Coastal Health spokeswoman Carrie Stefanson said in an e-mail.
“A public-health order restricts visitors in long-term care settings to immediate family members and spiritual adviser of residents who are clinically assessed to be at end-of-life. A very limited number of exemptions will be granted in exceptional cases.”
On Thursday evening, Ms. Edwards told the Globe that management at the facility, Point Grey Private Hospital, met with her and told her she would be able to stay in her mother’s room if she paid the same rate as her mother: about $2,900 a month.
That is a rate for publicly-subsidized beds in the facility. Ms. Edwards’s mother currently shares a room with another resident . Ms. Edwards said management told her they would be able to move the other resident to another room, freeing up a bed for Ms. Edwards.
Ms. Edwards said it would be difficult to pay that amount each month but that she intends to stay, because she worries that her mother’s health will suffer if she isn’t there.
Vancouver Coastal Health announced visitor restrictions to all sites on March 23.
Health experts say those restrictions are essential to save lives of residents and health care workers. Older people are more susceptible to COVID-19 than younger people, the majority of COVID-19 deaths in Canada are related to outbreaks in long-term care facilities, and restricting visitors is one of the most important steps a facility can take to prevent the risks of infection and transmission.
But those restrictions come at a price, including stress for families.
“There is a recognition that, at this time, stricter limitations on visitors has the potential to increase anxiety for residents and families, as well as put additional pressure on health care workers where families provide invaluable support with activities of daily living and non-clinical care to support their loved ones,” British Columbia Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said in a March 17 letter advising long-term care facilities to restrict visits to essential visits only.
“However, in an effort to control transmission, it is essential,” Dr. Henry added in the letter.
Prolonged isolation would amount to a “death warrant” for her mother, Ms. Edwards said on Thursday, adding that she has noticed changes in her mother’s physical and mental well-being even when she has been away on a short vacation.
Ms. Edwards maintains she does not pose a risk to residents or workers, as she has remained on the same floor of the building since March 15 and does not mingle with anybody outside her mother’s room.
Residence managers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In Victoria, Brenda Brophy recently made a nearly three-metre banner to wave from the street for her mother, Dot Finnerty, who is on the fifth floor of a long-term care centre, has been without visitors for a month and turned 100 on April 5.
Ms. Brophy understands the visitor restrictions but would like to see more attention paid to social isolation and communication, including video chats. Right now, those are hit-and-miss and depend on willing staff, she said.
“If this is going to continue, we need to know what’s being done for our loved ones and we need to go a little bit further in keeping connections," Ms. Brophy said.
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