'It feels like a big win': Investigation leads to more access for families at Chilliwack care home
VANCOUVER -- Leslie Nerheim is feeling a small sense of victory.
True, video chats with her mom are still the norm.
But now, there’s a glimmer of hope for more – and not just for her family, but for other families at her mom’s care home in Chilliwack, B.C., as well.
“It feels like a big win, that somebody was finally listening and some kind of change has happened,” the Vancouver Island woman said in an interview with CTV News.
Nerheim has been in a long battle with the Fraser Health-operated Heritage Village, where her mom is a resident. The issue for her family, and many others like them, has been the pandemic measures that have severely restricted access to relatives living in long-term care.
“It’s been hard. Very, very hard. For months, I was just consumed with trying to find ways to get one of us in to see her,” Nerheim said.
Her brother was repeatedly denied essential caregiver status.
She says it appeared the facility had a blanket policy to deny these requests. She was told everyone’s care needs were being met by staff.
Nerheim didn’t think that was right.
After telling her story to CTV News, her brother was recently designated an essential caregiver.
But by this time, Nerheim had already filed a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsperson.
And now that office has finished its investigation.
In a letter Nerheim shared with CTV News, the office says that its investigation "identified 25 residents who would benefit from having an essential visitor as envisioned by the current long-term care visits policy. Heritage Village staff have started to contact the family members of those residents to arrange…for those essential visits to commence."
Nerheim says that’s about a quarter of the residents at the care home.
“I’m happy that there’s going to be 25 more families (who) get to see their loved ones finally,” she said.
“I understand the care home was scared and trying to keep the residents safe. But a year of no connections?”
Fraser Health responded to CTV's request March 16.
In an email, the health authority said in part that "in light of the concerns, Heritage Village leadership reviewed the unique needs of all Heritage Village residents as they apply to essential visits.
"While some family members had already been designated as essential visitors, we have contacted the families of other residents who were identified as those who could benefit from essential visitor support," the statement reads.
Heritage Village leadership is in the process of providing these individuals with essential visitor status. Heritage Village has always supported essential visitor access under circumstances such as end of life.
When asked about the situation, B.C.’s provincial health officer said the outcome of the review was concerning.
“It is troubling to me when I hear those stories,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said.
“We have over 500 long-term care homes and additional assisted-living facilities in this province and so I can not know what is happening in every single one of them, but our guidance is designed to be consistent and to err on the side of providing an essential visitor for everyone who asks for it,” Henry said.
Nerheim wants to know why the apparent blanket policy was permitted in the first place, and what the province and health authorities will do to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Meanwhile, the care home recently offered Nerheim social visits with her mom, and she hopes to make that trip as soon as its safe to do so.
Editor's note: This article was updated on March 16 to include a response from Fraser Health.