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Some families have not been abiding by rules and windows have been opened during visits at long-term care homes, health authority says
Eastern Health is hoping to have protocols in place in time for Mother’s Day to allow families to have window visits with their loved ones living in long-term care residences.
On Wednesday, The Telegram reported the story of a St. John’s family who was hoping to visit their terminally ill mother for her birthday through the window of Glenbrook Lodge, where she lives, but the nursing home’s administration wouldn’t allow it.
Visitors have been banned at long-term care facilities across the province since March 23 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is particularly dangerous for elderly and immunocompromised people. The family had not seen their mom since that time, other than during video calls.
The family, who asked not to be named, said they had asked administrative staff if they could bring a happy birthday sign and stand outside their mom’s window for a visit as she turns 81 later this week, but were told it would be too disruptive to other residents and, “If we do it for one, we will have to do it for everyone.” The family noted staff at the Glenbrook had been especially good with organizing FaceTime chats with their mom, who is non-verbal.
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“Given that our mother is near the end of her life, we wanted to gather one last time as a family to celebrate her and hold a happy birthday sign outside a window while honouring physical distancing measures,” the woman’s daughter told The Telegram.
“It’s a small nursing home and, honestly, how many requests have they received? If they can facilitate FaceTime (calls), what’s the difference with a window visit?”
The nursing home’s executive director sent a memo to the families of all residents on Monday, explaining window visits would not be permitted and contact through virtual means was being encouraged instead. The memo also said any letters or packages for loved ones staying in the Glenbrook would have to be sent through Canada Post and would be held by the nursing home for three days before being passed on to the resident.
Eastern Health responded Wednesday morning to The Telegram’s earlier request for information, saying it empathizes with patients, residents and families who have been affected by the COVID-19 visitor restrictions and recognizes the importance of social connection.
A spokeswoman said the health authority had been made aware of situations in which different families had window-visited loved ones at various facilities, and the window had been opened during the visit.
“In these cases, people are often not staying six feet away from their loved one, which is not abiding by social distancing,” the spokeswoman said. “We are reviewing window visitation and will develop guidelines to ensure that families can visit with their loved ones safely. We are aiming to have these protocols in place prior to Mother’s Day to support safe window visitations, which would be co-ordinated by family members with long-term care staff.”
As well, Eastern Health is organizing a Mother’s Day dropoff of items, the spokeswoman said. More information will be provided to families soon.
Since certain programming and activities for residents has been temporarily stopped or modified while the public health crisis is ongoing, Eastern Health says it recognizes the importance of engaging residents and monitoring them for loneliness and social isolation.
“Eastern Health would like to reassure families that we are committed to maintaining residents’ safety and well-being,” the spokeswoman said, adding the health authority continues to explore new ways to keep people engaged.
The health authority responded to further questions for clarification Thursday morning, when the spokeswoman told The Telegram the suspension of window visits had been implemented by Eastern Health, not specifically the Glenbrook, and was in place across all longterm care facilities until guidelines to ensure safe window visits were developed.
At the provincial government’s regular daily COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald and Premier Dwight Ball each encouraged long-term care home operators to allow residents visits with their loved ones, either through windows or virtual means, with the premier noting the impact of social connection on mental health and, thus, physical health.
On Wednesday, Fitzgerald encouraged the public to celebrate Mother’s Day with their loved ones this weekend by connecting with them virtually and dropping cards and gifts at their doorstep instead of in person, unless they are members of their “double bubble.”
“To help alleviate the burden of not being able to visit with loved ones in residential care homes, all long-term care homes and some personal care homes will be accepting Mother’s Day gifts that can be passed along to residents,” Fitzgerald said. “Families are encouraged to contact the facility to determine if gifts or cards will be accepted.”