Province clarifies policy on essential versus social visits at care homes, seniors’ facilities

In both cases, visits are limited to one person, with exceptions for palliative and end-of-life care.


B.C. health officials are clarifying what constitutes essential visits and social visits to long-term and assisted-living care homes as restrictions in senior care facilities continue amid high daily case counts of COVID-19.

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The update, posted to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website on Jan. 8, largely expands on social visit policies.

According to the Ministry of Health, essential visits include:

• Visits for compassionate care, including hospice, end of life care and critical illness.

• Feeding, mobility and personal-care assistance.

• Communication assistance and supported decision-making or cognitive impairment.

Essential visits are limited to one visitor at a time, with exceptions for palliative and end-of-life care. Registered volunteers providing these services are included.

Social visits are defined as visits made by a family member or friend of a resident. Only one designated family member or friend may visit. Every visitor must schedule their visit in advance with facility staff and socialize only in designated visiting areas.

Social visits are only allowed if there is no COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.

Social or essential, all visitors must wear a mask, clean hands before and after visiting, using soap and water or sanitizer, and maintain social distancing. Those who are sick are required to stay home.

Visits were restricted to essential only in March 2020 after COVID-19 began transmitting into care facilities. It wasn’t until late June that restrictions were eased to allow one social visitor. An Oct. 3 report from B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie stated many facilities throughout the province went beyond health orders, restricting visits to a single person.

Visitation restrictions led to an unprecedented influx of phone calls and letters to Mackenzie’s office. Her recommendations at the time included allowing a safe number of social visitors in an attempt to balance safety, outbreak management and social needs.

As of Jan. 7, there were 51 active outbreaks at care homes or assisted living facilities across the province.

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