Frank Phillips receives a visit from his wife Rena at Nanaimo Seniors Village on their 61st wedding anniversay March 31. Patient visits have been restricted to essential only in the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nanaimo News Bulletin)

COVID-19: B.C. to start allowing visits to senior care homes

One designated visitor to start, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. care home residents and their loved ones have a chance to resume in-person visits, under strict COVID-19 pandemic conditions to be finalized within the next week to 10 days.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the lifting of essential-only visits June 30, after the province struggled to prevent and contain outbreaks of the novel coronavirus. To start, assisted living and long-term care homes will allow a designated visitor for each patient, once each facility has a written plan in place to meet public health conditions and visitor screening and scheduling in place.

Visits may be outside or in designated private rooms as determined on a site-by-site basis, Henry said. Assisted living residents may be able to venture out of their homes with a visitor, as long as community cases of COVID-19 remain low.

Facilities that have a current outbreak will not be allowed to have visitors, and designated visitors will be required to bring a mask and wear it appropriately. Virus testing for visitors is not being imposed, Henry said. “What we do need is for people to be fastidious about checking for symptoms,” she said.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said more than 2,000 additional staff are being hired for B.C.’s 680 long-term care and assisted living facilities, to schedule visits and screen visitors.

Dix and Henry acknowledged that allowing only essential visits and turning most relatives away has been difficult. “You have sacrificed more than many,” Henry said.

“It’s not just about extending life but about living life, and that involves engaging with people you love,” Dix said.

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Later stages of the visitation program may include family groups, if the care home in question has an appropriate space for that, Henry said.

Dix noted that almost 100 B.C. residents have died of COVID-19-related conditions since the pandemic took hold in February, prompting his ministry to impose a single-site rule for all care home and health facility support staff to minimize risk of carrying infection from one care home to another.

About 8,800 multiple-site employees have now been assigned to a single site, and wages increased so they can make a living on one job, he said. The initial cost estimate for that change was $10 million per month, and an updated cost of all the changes is expected as early as this week.


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