Just as a petition has been circling amongst seniors at The Hamlets in Westsyde assisted-living and residential-care facility, urging an end to being on lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial government has announced an easing of restrictions for care homes.
On Tuesday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix announced seniors in long-term care and assisted-living facilities will now be allowed to have a single, designated person stop in for visits.
Additionally, Henry said, people in assisted living, who are generally less frail than those in long-term care, will be afforded more freedom to have visits outside and in their communities, but will need to follow public health precautions.
As with businesses, each facility is required to have safety plans and precautions in place, Henry said. Visitors will be screened at the door and must wear a mask. Visits will need to be booked in advance so they can be spaced out throughout the day. She said it may take most facilities a week to 10 days before being ready to accept visitors.
The easement comes at a time residents at The Hamlets have been asking, through a petition, to be permitted to undertake excursions into the community after nearly four months of isolation.
As of now, they are not allowed to leave the property. If they do, and return, they face a 14-day isolation stay in their rooms.
The petition calls on The Hamlets administration “to end the isolation/quarantine imposed on us,” noting “continuation of this policy amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and thwarts our basic human rights.”
Gordon Gore is one of the residents who signed the petition.
The 82-year-old, founder of Big Little Science Centre told KTW there are many residents frustrated by the restrictions and who simply wish to be afforded the same freedoms as other seniors, noting they can’t do their own shopping or go for a walk in the neighbourhood.
“Were I a resident of any other place in the community, I could wear a face mask, abide by social distancing, wash my hands frequently like every one else and have a life,” Gore said.
While he appreciates the restrictions were designed to keep seniors safe, he said loneliness, lack of purpose and boredom can kill, too, noting there are few active cases in Interior Health and the majority of COVID-19 outbreaks at seniors’ homes have been in the Lower Mainland.
Gore has physical disabilities, but longs for the days when he can go for a ride in the fresh air on his scooter and take photos out at the nearby The Dunes at Kamloops Golf Course as he used to before the pandemic hit. He said he is not concerned about potentially bringing the virus back into the care home as the activity he wants to pursue doesn’t involve being around crowds.
Another resident who signed the petition said he would like to visit friends in North Kamloops, notng he is well aware of the need to remain outside and at least six feet from others. The resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said the staff and management at The Hamlets are "excellent," but noted the confinement is taking its toll on fellow residents.
Bob Attfield, general manager of The Hamlets, told KTW via email that while he has not seen the petition, he has heard about it and understands residents’ concerns. He said plans are underway to phase in safe access to the community by residents.
“We are currently working on a recovery plan that sets out protocols and measures to allow visitors on site and to permit access for assisted-living residents to the community,” Attfield said, “The plan takes into consideration the safety of all our residents, both long-term care and assisted living, as well as our team members. Our hope is to have these plans set in motion in the very near future.”
Public health will review its new policy monthly and expand visitation as it is safe to do so. Facilities with active outbreaks will not be permitted to have visitors.
Henry encouraged residents of assisted-living facilities to limit their social interactions and those in long-term care to limit outings to essential activities such as medical visits.
Given the current state of the pandemic in B.C., Henry said the province is now tipping the balance, where the negative consequences of not having loved ones around is starting to outweigh the risks of the virus.
“But it is a very fine balance,” she said.
Henry said seniors are at the most risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19, which is why measures such as visitor restrictions had to be implemented.