Scheduled visits began this week at the Peace Villa and Rotary Manor care homes in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek.
“We’re starting slowly, and it’s really around ensuring patient safety," Northern Health spokesperson Eryn Collins said. "But as things go well, and those practices are tested, we’re absolutely hoping to increase the number of visits."
Visits have been restricted since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced at the end of June that visits would resume this month at facilities free of outbreaks.
Residents are able to see one designated visitor at a time, limited to 30 minutes, and booked in advance. All visitors must bring and wear their own masks, and will be screened at the door.
Both care homes were required to submit a safety plan, and families will meet in a designated place within the care home, whether it's in the resident's room, or in common area or outdoors.
"Keeping people safe in those communal-living environments is incredibly important," Dr. Henry said July 9.
"Visiting is an important part of what we need to do to keep the mental health as well as the physical health of our seniors in care, however, it needs to be done in a measured fashion so that we're not introducing this virus into a care home again."
The plan to allow visitors is contingent on the province continuing to record a relatively low number of new COVID-19 cases. 208 active cases across B.C. as of July 13, and there have been no new cases in northern B.C. for more than a month.
The visits will be reviewed monthly by the province, care homes, and health authorities with an eye to expanding visitation if and when it appears safe to do. However, restrictions are expected to be in place in some form for a year.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province will provide $160 million for 680 long-term care and assisted-living facilities to hire extra workers to help facilitate visitations. There will also be $26.5 million for costs incurred by seniors homes between March 31 and June 30 for things like extra screening and sick time.
The funding is on top of the $10 million provided to public and private care homes for infection-control measures such as extra testing for respiratory illnesses, added pandemic controls, and increased sterilization.
— with files from Tom Summer, Cindy E. Harnett, and Glen Korstrom
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at email@example.com.