Sylvia Girard (centre) is pictured on her birthday last year with her children (from left) Frank, Louise, Mike and Janice. (Contributed photo)Sylvia Girard (centre) is pictured on her birthday last year with her children (from left) Frank, Louise, Mike and Janice. Girard is moving into a South Surrey care facility on the same date that the province has said restrictions on visitation are to be relaxed. (Contributed photo)

Relaxing restrictions for long-term care a relief, says daughter of South Surrey-bound senior

Not everyone is on board with the new freedoms that begin April 1

Restrictions on visits in long-term and assisted-living facilities are lifting, and the timing couldn’t be better, says the family of one senior.

Janice Girard said her mom Sylvia “had some emotions” over the prospect of moving from her New Westminster apartment into a South Surrey retirement residence this coming Thursday (April 1), in the midst of a pandemic, when who could visit and what those visits could look like were drastically limited by provincial health orders that have been in place for more than a year now.

But last Thursday’s news (March 26) – which included that hugs will be allowed, as will visits with more than one person at a time, as of April 1 – lightened that load, Girard said.

“She was so nervous that people wouldn’t come visit her,” Girard said Friday, noting there are grandchildren and great-grandchildren who have only been able to visit virtually.

“I think she’s very… relieved that we can all go and see her.”

READ MORE: COVID-19: Friends, family allowed to visit B.C. senior homes April 1

In sharing word of the relaxing restrictions, Minister of Health Adrian Dix said with the extra layer of protection that vaccinations bring, “it is a safe time to ease visitor restrictions and support safe social connections for people in long-term care.”

In addition to enabling long-term care and assisted-living residents to enjoy visits with more people, there will also be more flexibility around where the visits may take place.

Kellie Besseling, community relations director for Amica White Rock – where Girard’s 85-year-old mother is moving – said until now, visits have been confined to dedicated visitor rooms. As of Thursday, they can even be inside a resident’s suite – news Besseling described as “huge” for all of the residents.

The new rules allow up to two visitors, plus a child, at a time, with physical touch allowed using masks and hand hygiene. The changes also remove physical-distance requirements between residents, allowing for communal dining and small-group social or recreational activities in senior homes.

Planning for how to roll things out is underway, but for some, adjusting to the new freedoms won’t happen overnight.

“At the end of the day, you still have people who are nervous as well, and we want to be sure we see both sides and we support both ends of the spectrum,” said Craig Dickau, Amica’s regional director of sales and marketing.

For example, “we’ve had dining partners in the past, so basically (residents) were eating with certain people just so we could manage the risk,” Dickau continued.

“Even though we’re opening it up, some of them are choosing to only dine with their dining partners.”

Health and safety will remain the priority, and residents will be fully supported in whatever steps fit their comfort level, he added.

Some people have expressed concern with the province lifting restrictions, describing the move as confusing and contradictory to the current COVID-19 case numbers.

READ ALSO: B.C. stops indoor dining, fitness, religious service due to COVID-19 spike

“What happened to baby steps?” Janice Gale writes in an email to staff at the White Rock residence her brother calls home.

One care-home employee – who asked to remain anonymous – told Peace Arch News that many staff and management feel things are moving too quickly.

“The visitors have not been allowed in for a whole year and all of a sudden they can come in droves?” the staffer said. “After this whole year of not allowing anything, it’s all OK now?

“I think we are in shock.”

Early in the pandemic, public health officials identified people living in long-term care and assisted living as particularly vulnerable to severe outcomes from COVID-19, and enacted restrictions in the name of protecting their health and safety.

People living and working in long-term care were among the first in B.C. to be vaccinated. Fraser Health announced on Jan. 15 that all of its 151 long-term care and assisted-living facilities had completed vaccination clinics.

READ MORE: PHOTOS: South Surrey seniors grateful for ‘freedom’ of COVID-19 vaccine

“This year has been challenging for all of us, but the challenges for those living and working in long-term care and their loved ones have been among the greatest we have faced,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer.

“Now that the most vulnerable among us have received a vaccine, we are safely amending restrictions to give people in long-term care greater opportunities to connect with the people they love.”

Henry acknowledged that the expansion of visits is likely to mean more infection outbreaks in care homes, but said with vaccine protection and other precautions, that risk is outweighed by the effect of continued isolation of elderly people.

Social visits will be suspended in the event of an outbreak; as well, all visits must be pre-booked.

According to a B.C. government document with details of the update, the changes are in effect until June 30.

– with files from Tom Fletcher

Peace Arch News