Restrictions on visits to seniors homes lifted Monday

Jeanette Harper has longed to freely visit with her 90-year-old mum — without masks, schedules or time limits — and she’ll be able to Monday as most pandemic restrictions in long-term care and assisted living homes are lifted.

“I’m really looking forward to taking my mask off when I’m with my mom, I think that’s the biggest thing,” said Harper. Her mother, Marguerite Bell, who is 90 and has Alzheimer’s disease, is at Eden Gardens in Nanaimo.

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As an essential visitor, Harper has been able to see her mom, but the mask has proved a significant barrier to having a conversation, conveying a smile, or sharing a meal or refreshment.

Stringent visiting restrictions have been in place more than a year at seniors homes to prevent deaths and serious illness from COVID-19.

But come Monday, families will no longer have to schedule visits, the limit on the number of visitors in a resident’s room of two adults and one child is lifted, fully vaccinated visitors no longer have to wear masks in resident rooms, and many day and activity programs will resume.

“It will also be great to be able to go visit when I want, or just drop in,” Harper said. “And my sister is very much looking forward to taking her two grandchildren in to see my mother.”

Harper said some seniors homes, including Eden Gardens, are already indicating defined visiting hours. That wasn’t in the provincial health officer’s guidance, but Harper believes this is a result of staffing issues as screeners will need to be at the front door to verify visitors are fully vaccinated and wearing masks in common areas.

Terry Lake, CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association, thanked Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Friday for the changes.

Lake said while the risk posed by COVID-19 has not disappeared, the high vaccination rates and low case daily COVID counts are comforting indicators that the pandemic might be nearing an end.

“I know many will be eager to finally see their moms, dads or companions in a care home, and have an opportunity to hug them without a mask,” said Lake, adding the changes come with responsibilities for both care home operators and visitors.

Checking in with greeters during visiting hours, presenting proof of vaccination, and wearing a mask when traveling through common areas of care home will still be required, he said.

Noting that front-line staff and leadership have worked hard under difficult circumstances during this health crisis, Lake asked anyone planning to see their loved ones this week “do so with patience, and compassion.”

“These changes that take effect Monday will require a small period of adjustment, and hopefully everyone will work together to make life safe and comfortable for everyone in our care homes.”

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