There are a whole bunch of people that have had their rights and freedoms tremendously impacted by the Covid pandemic in Canada. Those are people with disabilities and seniors that are in assisted living and long term care homes. Activist Paul Caune has drawn attention to this issue, and shared the stories of people whose quality of life and opportunity to have even the most basic interaction with caregivers, families and friends cut off due to facility precautions over the Covid pandemic.
Journalist Daphne Bramham has written about issues for residents in George Pearson Centre that were evident even before the Covid epidemic. There have been stories written about people not able to be with their parents when they were dying in care homes, and people in assisted living who relied on families for their basic care who have been shut out.
No one imagined that a pandemic would force the closure of these care facilities in such a way that many residents became prisoners and confined to their facilities or to their rooms during the pandemic.
In June in British Columbia care facilities were asked to submit plans to the Province to allow one visitor at a time per resident for one half hour behind plexiglass or outdoors. Each facility has a different management plan, and family members cannot touch or assist the resident in any way.
I have written about Ontario deciding that family, comfort and care was important to facility residents. They realized that facility operators had been inconsistent in providing clear policy on visits by caregivers (including families). Ontario is now allowing two designated caregivers to visit at any time including during a covid outbreak subject to “direction from the local public health unit”.
“If a home is not in outbreak, and the resident is not self-isolating or symptomatic, caregivers can visit together. If a home is in outbreak, or the resident is self-isolating or symptomatic, they must visit one at a time to limit risk of transmission and follow direction from the local public health unit.” The caregivers do wear PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) when visiting the resident.
In British Columbia the Seniors’ Advocate, Isobel Mackenzie is now releasing a report and the results of a survey about visitor restrictions to long-term care and assisted living homes. Called Staying Apart to Stay Safe the report is scheduled for release on Tuesday November 3 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time.
My in-laws are in a private care facility who have been cut off from family since the spring. Over the summer months we were able to book 20 minute visits outdoors under a gazebo with a floor to ceiling plastic sheet separating the two sides. At more than 3 metres apart and with the sheet in place it was often impossible to hear one another. More recently we sat outside with a microphone and speaker while my father-in-law sat inside with his own microphone and speaker. A large window allowed us to see each other more clearly than we’d been able to through the plastic sheet of summer. My mother-in-law is in a different part of the care facility and she was, at the time, locked down because of a potential COVID exposure. Those brief “visits” have to be booked weeks in advance.
Last month the Green party was proposing a ban on all private care facilities. While that might sound good in principle there’s one gaping hole in the government run care industry: it’s designed for widows. For “efficiency” the system places residents according to their needs. That’s wonderful; we don’t fill high care homes with people whose needs are fewer. And it’s absolutely terrible because spouses almost never age at the same rate. Unless the government system can be rapidly expanded with facilities that cater to a variety of residents the future will continue to be bleak for anyone wishing to stay with their spouse or decline without being forced to move. With smoking rates among men dropping and the trend actually reversing (young women are now more likely to be smokers than young men) the future is one where both spouses live to an age where they’ll need help with daily necessities. Single rooms, as promised by the NDP during the election, will eventually have to become the exception as men start living almost as long as women. There will be an absolutely massive need for couples accommodation when/if I get into my 80s/90s.
I suppose one answer is greatly expanded in-home care. Seniors wishing to stay together will be expected to remain in their homes and have care brought to them rather than them moving to where the care is. In theory an ever increasing level of care could be provided, but going from a few hours per day to round-the-clock nursing simply isn’t practical in private housing. Small apartments don’t have room for a live-in nanny and detached houses have impediments like stairs. Additionally, selling the house is often the only way to afford to live a long life.
The upheaval of moving and the trauma of being separated from a spouse of many decades cause significant mental and physical health declines. Forced separation and repeated moves to match care needs is not a future I want for myself and my wife. There must be a way forward that doesn’t produce such nasty side effects or cost upwards of $10,000 per moth.
Many people won’t be able to stay at home for the simple fact that they are frail and elderly and can no longer take care of themselves. Isobel pushing “home care services” isn’t going to change that at all. The push to end Long Term Care facilities is a cost-saving measure but not something that would actually solve the problem of a lack of adequate care for the elderly people who do need support.