As B.C. public health officials call for seniors in care homes to be allowed a designated social visitor as well as one who provides essential services, Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie says many residents aren’t even getting essential visits in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My office is receiving phone calls and emails from family members, including spouses, who were advised they could no longer visit their loved one, even though they offer vital support and care,” Mackenzie said Jan. 6. “They help to feed their loved one, get them dressed, take them for walks, and keep them engaged. For many residents, these visitors are the only people who can motivate them to engage in any activities, and yet they are not formally recognized as essential.”
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Jan. 4 that rapid antigen tests are being provided to senior homes to check visitors for infection, to allow residents a designated social visitor as well as one essential visitor to provide feeding, personal care, communication or disability assistance.
Mackenzie wants the province to declare that every resident is entitled to at least one essential visitor, and provide staff support to care homes to check visitors in, including vaccine status and administering rapid tests. Current public health orders allow essential visitors to continue coming into a facility when an outbreak is declared, which can be based on a single positive test of a resident or staff member.
Mackenzie released results of a survey in November 2020 that found 52 per cent of requests made by residents and family members to designate an essential visitor were denied by administrators. She said Thursday the strain of absent care home staff due to widespread exposure to the fast-spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19 has created more of a barrier.
“Care home operators are significantly over-burdened,” Mackenzie said. “They need the clarity from the province that every resident is entitled to an essential visitor and be relieved of the staff resources required to manage the essential visitor designation process.”