Debbie Drew poses for a photo with her father Graham Drew during her visit to a long-term care home in British Columbia in this undated handout photo. She said visiting restrictions that were initially needed at facilities like the Lynn Valley Care Centre are now causing more harm than good for her dad and other residents mostly confined to their rooms. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Debbie Drew *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Debbie Drew poses for a photo with her father Graham Drew during her visit to a long-term care home in British Columbia in this undated handout photo. She said visiting restrictions that were initially needed at facilities like the Lynn Valley Care Centre are now causing more harm than good for her dad and other residents mostly confined to their rooms. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Debbie Drew *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Visit restrictions contributed to depression among care home residents: doctor

Findings released last month show a seven per cent rate of increase in antipsychotic use

A plastic barrier sits on a table between Debbie Drew and her father during their visits in the reception area of a long-term care home where the first Canadian died of COVID-19.

Nine months later, Drew said visiting restrictions that were initially needed at facilities like the Lynn Valley Care Centre are now causing more harm than good for her dad and other residents who are mostly confined to their rooms.

That’s where she fears 96-year-old Graham Drew will die alone.

“It’s very hard because he’s getting depressed. He’s sad. He needs the socialization because he’s been a very social person all his life,” Drew said of the man known for his sense of humour and love of singing songs like “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

The National Institute on Ageing said families in British Columbia are enduring the most restrictive visitation policies compared with long-term care homes anywhere else in the country. The institute has issued guidelines to support the reopening of care homes to family caregivers and visitors, even during outbreaks.

Drew said she and her sister and brother regularly visited their father since he moved to the care home three years ago. They decided she would be the so-called designated visitor allowed to enter a common area once a week for 30 minutes though the Plexiglas barrier separating her from her father makes visits challenging because of his hearing loss.

Isobel Mackenzie, the advocate for seniors in British Columbia, said the unintended consequences of tightened visiting policies have contributed to a spike in loneliness and depression for residents, as revealed in a survey by her office. About 15,000 residents, families and members of the public participated in the survey this summer.

The findings released last month show a seven per cent rate of increase in antipsychotic use, and a three per cent jump in antidepressant use between March and September for residents who have struggled to cope without adequate contact with their family caregivers.

“What they talked about is: ‘I need more help. I want somebody to help me to the toilet. I want somebody to help me eat. I want somebody who’s going to sit and listen to me,’” Mackenzie said.

The lack of an association that represents residents and their families at the 300 care homes in B.C. means they don’t have a voice in policy discussions between the government, care-home operators and unions for staff, she said.

Mackenzie has called on the B.C. government to establish a family council association, similar to one in Ontario, that would be included in future consultations on issues affecting residents of long-term care and assisted living facilities.

The Health Ministry did not respond directly to an inquiry about whether it would consider the creation of such an association, saying only that it recognizes the important role of family councils that exist at licensed facilities.

Not all care homes have councils, and those that do aren’t part of any collective group.

Mackenzie said care home operators are arbitrarily deciding who qualifies as an essential or designated visitor, with many facilities allowing only one or the other among regular family caregivers.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer for B.C., said she understands the ongoing challenges families are facing when trying to visit their loved ones during a pandemic that has caused a disproportionate number of deaths among long-term care residents.

“We’ve been quite clear on what an essential visitor is and recognize the importance of essential visitors and have been working to ensure that the guidance is applied appropriately and consistently,” she said.

Families have the right to appeal any decision to the manager of a facility and to the BC Patient Safety and Quality Council, Henry said.

Mackenzie said about 80 per cent of residents had no visits between March and June as care-home operators decided whether they met the criteria for an essential visit.

“Certainly, as we got into the summer months, we had far more restrictions in B.C. than any of the other provinces.”

At the very least, care homes should permit one visitor to see residents in their room, something that is not happening at most facilities, Mackenzie said.

“I’ve run a care home. I can’t imagine the nightmare of having to co-ordinate visits in a common area,” she said.

READ MORE: Virtual concert series Songs for Seniors to bring families separated by COVID together

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health System and the University Health Network in Toronto, said the impact of visitor restrictions on long-term care residents whose family caregivers are a big part of their lives has been lost amid the focus on daily COVID-19 case counts.

“How many families are we putting in extreme distress and turmoil? How many residents are we actually making suffer even more because of overly excessive kinds of restrictions?”

Sinha, who is also director of health policy research at the National Institute on Ageing at Ryerson University in Toronto, said restricted access to visiting, especially in B.C., has not always balanced the risks of COVID-19 infection with the risks of social isolation.

The need for that balance is one of the principles in the institute’s guideline, which says all long-term care residents should be given the same access to visitors.

That’s all the more important due to chronic staffing shortages that have been highlighted during the pandemic, Sinha said.

“If we do it in certain ways, we should be able to facilitate a lot more visits and a lot higher level of socialization because a lot of older people are literally dying of loneliness, and that’s the biggest travesty of all.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusSeniors

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

file photo
County Council discusses new tax incentives for non-residential properties

County of Wetaskiwin Council discussed new tax incentives for non-residential properties at… Continue reading

Screen grab/ Government of Alberta COVID-19 aggregate data map
City of Wetaskiwin down to just five active cases

Active COVID-19 cases in the City of Wetaskiwin continue to decline.

Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says Albertans need to keep making safe choices to start bending the curve back down. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
One new COVID-19 death in Red Deer, 257 additional cases province-wide

Red Deer sits at 459 active cases of the virus

File photo
Norris Beach Road Tender Approved

County of Wetaskiwin Council awarded the tender for Range Road 11 to Crow Enterprises Ltd.

A health-care worker looks at a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Palais de Congress site as Quebec begins mass vaccinations based on age across the province, Monday, March 1, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Nearly 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week: Anand

Anita Anand says she’s received assurances from the vaccine manufacturer

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

Maskwacis virtual job fair
MEC goes virtual with job fair and services during pandemic

By Chevi Rabbit For Ponoka News Maskwacis Employment Center’s (MEC’s) semi-annual job… Continue reading

hands
The call is out in Rimbey to sign on with a group that is all about building connections

‘Already, we are building a network where we can rely on each other and help each other out’

FILE - Dolly Parton arrives at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Grammy-winning singer, actor and humanitarian posted a video on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, of her singing just before getting her COVID-19 vaccine shot. Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee for coronavirus research. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
‘Vaccine, vaccine’: Dolly sings ‘Jolene’ rewrite before shot

The Grammy-winning legend turned 75 this year

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland speaks about the Fiscal update during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID-19: Wage and rent subsidies, lockdown support to be extended until June

Chrystia Freeland says now is not time to lower levels of support

Many rural seniors are having to travel a long way to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Stettler residents are being told to go to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose. (Black Press file photo).
Rural central Alberta seniors have to travel far to get vaccines

Stettler residents are being directed to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose clinics

Samantha Sharpe, 25, was stabbed to death at Sunchild First Nation on Dec. 12, 2018. Chelsey Lagrelle was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for manslaughter in a Red Deer courtroom on Tuesday. Photo contributed
Central Alberta woman sentenced to 4 1/2 years for stabbing friend to death in 2018

Chelsey Lagrelle earlier pleaded guilty to stabbing Samantha Sharpe during argument

Calgary police say they received 80 hate crime complaints between January and November 2020. (Pixabay)
‘Racism is a real problem:’ Muslim women fearful following attacks in Edmonton

So far in 2021, three of seven hate-crime-related investigations have involved Somali-Muslim women

Most Read