Betty Lindsay, 75, is staying in a special rehabilitation unit at Pioneer Village, a long-term care home in Regina, while she undergoes intensive chemotherapy for stage 3 ovarian cancer.
Her daughter, Heidi Lindsay, said Betty was looking forward to a Mother’s Day family reunion this weekend with her four children, including a daughter who lives in Winnipeg. Then, multiple cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Betty’s ward on May 1, and general visitation was suspended.
Heidi said she asked the unit manager if they could arrange a family visit in the yard with physical distancing and masks and was told, “No, your mom can’t even go out. alone to get some air”.
Heidi is furious that her mother, who does not have COVID-19, is not allowed to visit her family outdoors at the same time that Saskatchewan residents who are actually infected with COVID-19 are legally allowed to leave their homes. The province scrapped its mandatory isolation rules in late February.
“My mom — from the moment she found out — has been crying non-stop. Very emotional, very sad. It was something she was looking forward to,” Heidi said.
But Medical Officer of Health Dr Johnmark Opondo, speaking on behalf of the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), said the policy not only allows such visits, but encourages them.
About 75 nursing homes and hospital units in Saskatchewan have outbreaks — with two or more cases of COVID-19 — as of May 5, according to the SHA website.
The most restrictive “red” level category for family presence guidelines still allows a family member or designated support person to enter the facility at any time of the day to assist with the physical or emotional care of a resident, but any other person is considered a visitor and not essential. During epidemics, visitors are not allowed except to see dying patients.
The guidelines state that off-site visits are determined in consultation with local medical officers of health.
Opondo told CBC News that Mother’s Day visits are important and that he is directing care facility managers to accommodate family visits this weekend for residents who are not sick or positive for COVID-19. 19, even if their unit is declared an outbreak area.
“The recommendation is, ‘If I want to take Mom out for lunch or on a Mother’s Day date, there’s no reason I can’t do that, unless she’s actively ill. “, Opondo said.
Residents who are considered close contacts but have no symptoms can leave the facility for a family visit — and take a COVID-19 test upon their return — or gather outdoors, he said. . Only COVID-19 positive or sick residents should be isolated, he added.
However, the doctor stressed that red-tier restrictions that prohibit unimpeded public access to outbreak areas are necessary at the start of any outbreak to protect medically fragile residents.
The Lindsay family is particularly sensitive to losing access to their loved one after a painful experience at the start of the pandemic.
Heidi’s father, Jim, resided at the Wascana Rehabilitation Center in Regina. Her adult children took turns visiting her every day and helping with her physical care. This came to an abrupt end in early April 2020, when COVID-19 restrictions banned all visitors to healthcare facilities. Jim died four days later.
After her death, Heidi was approached to be part of a family task force to expand the SHA’s criteria for compassionate visitation – a change that would allow a family support person inside facilities to provide physical and emotional care to residents, not just for end-of-life visits.
Last weekend, May 1, Heidi arrived at her mother’s establishment and saw a “hand-scratched note with a marker and a piece of paper hanging on the door indicating that they were locked up and that ‘No visitors are allowed,’ she said.
Heidi said a nurse asked her to leave and she informed the nurse that as an essential support person she had “every right” to be there. She said she asked the manager to arrange an outside visit for other family members and was told that could not happen.
“I’m so incredibly frustrated with this ongoing knee-jerk reaction to a COVID outbreak,” Lindsay said. “Every member of our family is vaccinated, boosted, and also had Omicron at the beginning of the year.”
Heidi said her mother loved the caregivers at Pioneer Village and “didn’t want to cause a stir”.
‘Time is precious’
Dr Opondo said the visitor bans are short-lived and necessary to “reduce traffic” at a time when staff are trying to implement epidemic precautions and strengthen infection control.
“At the start of every outbreak, it’s like an effort to assess, understand and define the outbreak, and then start implementing interventions. And once we see things are stable and improving, we’re going to let’s relax quickly,” Opondo said.
The medical officer of health does not agree with the term containment in these cases. He said the SHA limits the scope of an outbreak area to small units rather than entire facilities.
“I’m looking for the smallest footprint possible because I don’t want to impact people unnecessarily.” he said
Provincial Health Minister Paul Merriman said he expects facilities to be “as open as possible” with temporary short-term restrictions.
Opondo did not respond to the Lindsay family’s complaint, but said he generally expected SHA facilities to find a safe way to connect patients and families.
Heidi hopes the doctor’s message will resonate with frontline workers.
“Time is precious,” Opondo said. “And I don’t want people wasting time. We’ve sacrificed enough already. So SHA’s policy is pretty clear, we want to support a high quality, safe family presence, when we can.”