'It's a slow death camp': B.C. seniors in long-term care still isolated, despite COVID vaccinations
VANCOUVER -- Seventy-four-year-old Diana Reichert is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
And yet, more than a month after receiving her second shot, she is just as lonely in her Vancouver long-term care home as she was before.
“She’s fully vaccinated and we’re still having to fight. It’s a new fight every week,” said her daughter, Becky Reichert, who is allowed to see her mom for one hour a week.
“I didn’t think they’d throw the doors to long-term care wide open (after vaccinations), but I certainly didn’t think I’d have to book a week in advance,” she said.
Anna van Blankenstein’s husband lives at the same facility, Royal Arch Masonic Home, which is operated by Vancouver Coastal Health.
He has already had COVID and later received his first vaccine.
Still, van Blankenstein says, she only gets a single, half-hour supervised visit with him once a month.
“The visit is grim,” she says. “I have to be masked. My husband and I can’t reach out for one another. There is a chaperone sitting about 14 feet away who can overhear everything we say and she’s there to prevent any kind of infraction.”
She believes her husband is depressed.
“He begs me to get him out of there… it’s a slow death camp.”
Van Blankenstein says at Royal Arch, even a simple thing, like leaving chocolate for her husband, is not permitted.
“I’m really angry,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking. It’s really agonizing for families. It’s agonizing for residents. There’s no consistency in the application of the rules.”
She says she’s been denied essential visitor status.
This, despite the fact that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in January that “every resident who has a person who can care for them should have a designated essential visitor.”
Henry said the plan had been “a challenge to operationalize.”
Vancouver Coastal Health did not respond to questions from CTV News about the care home’s policies.
Meanwhile, B.C. health officials keep saying changes to long-term care are coming.
“We’re going to bc making changes in this month of March, either next week or the latest by March 29, to the general rules around visitation in long term care given the success of our vaccination program,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said Thursday.
By comparison, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States issued guidelines almost two weeks ago that allow people who are fully vaccinated to visit with those who have not received their shots.
“You can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19,” the CDC says on its website.
The U.S. guidelines mean that seniors can visit with children and grandchildren.
Some B.C. families say it’s time for the government to help end the suffering for seniors who are now protected, but still alone.
“It’s time to err on the side of compassion,” says van Blankenstein.
This article is Part 5 of a CTV News series: