REGINA — Health officials in Saskatchewan are revising rules for family visits to long-term care homes and to patients in hospital intensive care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority says quality of life will be taken into account for visits to long-term care residents.
It says if a resident's needs can't be met without the help of family, two designated relatives or support people will be allowed to visit, but only one at a time.
"We have heard from many, many people from across this province of the hardships that have been created by the absolute lockdown of long-term care facilities and our ICUs where we have vulnerable patients," Scott Livingstone, the authority's CEO, told a news conference Wednesday.
Health officials clamped down on visits to long-term care homes and hospitals as the pandemic gained ground earlier this spring.
Intensive or critical care patients in hospitals — as well as those in palliative care — will be allowed visits by two family members.
"Doing anything that takes us back towards a new norm holds some risk because we know COVID is still with us," Livingstone said.
On Wednesday, the province reported one new infection in the far north. Of Saskatchewan's 647 cases, 34 are considered to be active.
Dr. Susan Shaw, chief medical officer for the health authority, encouraged families with loved ones in long-term care to work with staff to determine what residents need.
"It could be someone who needs reorientation or someone who has memory loss and has a better quality of life from having a more presence of a loved one," she said.
The province has also revised guidelines to ensure it's clear that a relative or support person can be with someone having difficulty getting emergency or inpatient care due to a mental-health disability, physical impairment or communication issue.
Until now, a mental-health disability was not spelled out by the government as a reason for allowing someone seeking emergency care to have a support person with them. The guidelines only listed emergency department patients and inpatients with "specific challenges such as mobility, hearing, visual or memory impairment."
The body of Samwel Uko was found in Wascana Lake last month. New reports have said he tried to seek mental-health help at a local hospital before his suicide.
A cousin of the young man told Global Regina he tried to go to an emergency room with Uko, but was denied entry because of policies around COVID-19.
"We have expanded our abilities for people seeking emergency and urgent care to also have somebody with them when there are problems or situations like visual impairment, memory impairment or confusion," Shaw said during Tuesday's news conference.
She said an expert panel has been considering the changes for weeks.
Livingstone said there's still an investigation into what happened before Uko died and the policy changes detailed Wednesday are not related to the case.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2020