Families say isolated seniors in care still being denied essential visitors
CHILLIWACK, B.C. -- Leslie Nerheim misses her mom.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Nerheim said. “This is the longest I’ve gone my entire life without seeing my mom.”
She said she hasn’t had an in-person visit with her mom since just before pandemic restrictions in long-term care took effect almost a year ago.
“I asked for her 65th birthday if we could do a window visit, and I’m being denied,” Nerheim told CTV News Vancouver.
Nerheim’s mother, who has early onset dementia, lives in the Fraser-Health-operated Heritage Village in Chilliwack.
Recently, the family asked that her brother be granted essential visitor status, but they were denied.
Leslie says Heritage Village seems to have a blanket policy not to designate essential visitors.
“We were told that basically nobody meets the criteria …They said that her care needs were being met by the staff,” said Nerheim, adding that even before COVID-19, workers at the facility always complained about being short-staffed.
More than two months ago, B.C.’s seniors advocate recommended that every person living in long-term care be allowed an essential visitor.
But families say they continue to be refused this designation.
“We’ve applied multiple times for essential caregiver status … and we’ve been denied,” said Brenda Howard, whose 95-year-old mother Ethel lives in long-term care in Surrey.
“My mom has lost 25 pounds. A further five pounds in December alone,” Howard said in an interview with CTV News.
Howard said family used to bring her mom meals and encourage her to eat and that visits took place daily. Now, only one designated family member can visit.
“A meaningful visit is not behind plexi-glass. It’s not in a visitor centre where you are supervised. A meaningful visit is putting on PPE, being safe and going into your resident’s room,” said Howard.
“We don’t have time for the vaccine rollout … At almost 96, every day’s a gift and I would like to experience those with her.”
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Health clarified guidelines for essential visits, indicating they are visits paramount to the resident’s physical care and mental well-being.
“Every resident who has a person who can care for them should have a designated essential visitor, but that has been a challenge to operationalize,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday.
In a statement to CTV News, Fraser Health said in part that all sites are expected to follow the essential visitor guidelines as directed.
“We have followed up with the facility (in Chilliwack) to ensure they are aware of the visitor guidelines outlined by the province,” the statement said.
But Fraser Health did not clarify whether it felt the care home in Chilliwack was following those guidelines.
The statement from the health authority also noted that the restrictions on visits remain in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the B.C. seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie says if families are denied essential visitor status, they should resubmit their request to the care home and indicate they believe the request was wrongly rejected.
Mackenzie also recommends families send a formal complaint to the Patient Care Quality Office for review.