Families consider legal action, say rights of seniors in care being violated by pandemic visitor restrictions
Published Thursday, December 17, 2020 7:51PM PST
VANCOUVER -- Ethel Lee, 95, will spend Christmas alone, quarantined in her room in a Surrey long-term care facility after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
“That takes us right through Christmas that she’ll be locked in her room,” says Lee's daughter, Brenda Howard.
Howard is part of a group of families with loved ones in care who are frustrated with pandemic visitor restrictions.
They say the B.C. government and health officials aren’t listening to their concerns so they’ve hired a lawyer. They believe the restrictions are violating seniors’ rights and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association is supporting them.
“We have a patchwork of visitation policies so sometimes whether you can see your loved ones depends on where you are living, what kind of care home operators, whether they’re taking a more restrictive approach or not,” explained Meghan McDermott of the BCCLA.
Howard says without family there to help feed her mom, she’s lost more than 20 pounds. Her family also used to ensure she kept moving.
“She’s confined to a wheelchair now. (Care home workers) don’t have the time or resources to be helping each person with their mobility,” Howard said.
“My mom’s cognitive and physical decline is severe and we need to be in her room. One person, in PPE, going straight to her room to help her with things like mobility, memory impairment, her personal care."
Natalia Un is also part of the group of families who have written the Health Ministry and the provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, about their concerns. But for Un’s family, any changes will come too late.
Un also fought for essential visitor status, only to have it taken away when her mom started eating again.
Not long after, she found herself fighting for a compassionate visit with her sister.
“At the one-hour mark, we were told that we have to leave because the one-hour compassionate visit was over. Mom wasn’t doing well. We said, ‘Is she going to be OK?’ We were told yes, she’s going to be OK.”
Un says they were told they could see their mom the next day but about an hour after they returned home, they got a call from the care home saying they needed to get back, quickly.
“We went there within 15 minutes. My mom died alone without her daughters by her side. Had they allowed us to stay, we could have at least been with my mom until they end but they denied all of that,” a grieving Un told CTV News.
“This should never have happened. This didn’t have to happen.”
Families say even though a family member can be designated an essential visitor under current rules, many families are being repeatedly denied this.
“There is a policy that allows essential care givers to be in the building and that is not being done,” says Howard, who also says there is no legitimate appeals process.
Dr. Bonnie Henry sees things differently.
“We’ve been quite clear on what an essential visitor is and recognize the important of essential visitors and have been working to ensure those guidelines are applied evenly and consistently,” Henry said.
But families and some lawyers disagree.
They say it’s crucial to keep seniors safe but shutting out loved ones is causing more harm than good.