Continued closure of Chinatown day program leaves senior isolated

Before the pandemic hit, 89-year-old Linda Leong’s days were filled with social interaction in her own language and cultural activities at a day program for seniors in Chinatown.

When pandemic restrictions forced the closure of the day program at the Victoria Chinatown Care Centre, Leong’s daughter, Irene Leong, started bringing her to the Hillside medical office she runs with her husband.

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Linda Leong now spends almost 12 hours a day there, six days a week, mostly alone in an examination room that has been converted to keep her separate from patients and reduce her risk of becoming sick.

Her daughter, who runs the medical office, spends time with her during the day whenever she can, but running the office is a full-time job, and Irene Leong worries about how much time her mother is spending alone.

“I’m seeing a shadow of my mother, and I know the real mother is there, but because of the isolation, it’s very hard to break through,” she said.

Leong has watched her mother’s mental health and mobility deteriorate over the past many months. When she heard that the province was lifting visitor restrictions at seniors homes this week, Leong was excited, expecting that would include the restarting of the day program at Victoria Chinatown Care Centre, which also provides residential care.

While the centre has been given the green light by Island Health to resume the program, it doesn’t have enough staff to get started, said interim manager ­Maxine Alford.

The woman who runs the program is on leave and it’s unclear how long she’ll be off, Alford said, and there’s a shortage of volunteers who are two weeks past their second COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Island Health has given direction to day programs that they’re expected to restart by September, and the centre hopes to be up and running sooner, Alford said.

Irene Leong knows there are other day programs available, but because her mother doesn’t speak English, the ­Chinatown program is the only one that meets her needs, she said. So, while many British Columbians are easing back into a more normal life, Linda Leong continues to spend her days in isolation.

Irene Leong’s husband, Dr. Naz Merali, was planning his retirement after 38 years of practising medicine when the pandemic began. As the province’s health-care system braced for the worst, they felt a duty to keep the practice open for their 2,500 patients, Leong said.

“It’s hard watching her health decline, and thinking we’re helping everybody else but I can’t help my mother at this moment,” she said.

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