The elderly, and the people who care for them – whether they are professionals or family members -- are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seniors are dying in long term care homes without family members being allowed to be by their side, due to restrictions on visitations, and those who care for seniors at home are getting little respite during the current pandemic.
Seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie spoke Sunday about the need to help people who care for seniors still living at home, and the need to address some of the concerns over long-term care homes.
Some of those concerns include family members sometimes waiting weeks to hear about the status of parents or grandparents in care homes, or not being able to be there for loved ones who are dying.
The provincial government has announced funding to help those caregivers who take care of their own family members – spouses and adult children – and who are now even more isolated and in need of respite.
The Family Caregivers of British Columbia program – which provides support for spouses or children looking after the elderly in their own homes -- is getting a $500,000 boost from the province to help them access services and help.
A lot of the help they used to get is not available, because so many programs and services have had to close
“There’s nowhere now for the family member, the family care giver, to go,” Mackenzie said. “Senior centres are closed, recreation centres are closed, libraries are closed, and we are specifically saying to seniors and people who live with seniors that now is not the time to go out and about.”
The funding will be used to increase the capacity of the Family Caregivers of BC help line, and expand their “virtual toolkit” that will allow family caregivers to reach out to each other for support. Family caregivers needing support can call 211 for advice.
Some families could get a week or more of respite to take breaks and holidays, while their loved ones were placed temporarily in a “respite bed” in long-term care home. That program is currently cancelled.
And until the pandemic has passed and restrictions lifted, there’s not much the province can do to provide that kind of much-needed respite.
Asked about some of the restrictions now in place at long-term care homes that restrict family members from being able to visit loved ones, Mackenzie said she agreed they need to be addressed.
There have been reports of family members not being allowed to be with their dying parents or grandparents, even when the senior may be dying from causes other than COVID-19.
Mackenzie said the “new normal” for pandemic management could go on for a year, and that that is just too long to keep family members apart.
She said there is an exemption that allows family members to visit their dying parents or grandparents – an exemption that some care homes may not even be aware of.
“I’ve heard some care homes simply are not aware that there is this exemption,” Mackenzie said. “They think there is a blanket prohibition.
“I am going to be communicating to the care homes to carefully look at that language and make accommodations, where they can, and some do. If there is an active outbreak of COVID-19 in the care home, that makes it more difficult.”
The number of care homes with active outbreaks in B.C. is down from 25 to 19.
“The overwhelming majority are not in active outbreak, and they could find a way, and I would certainly be encouraging them to find a way, for families to be with their loved ones when they are dying,” Mackenzie said.
“The new normal is going to be in place for about a year. We are going to have to find a way for people to see their spouse, their adult child that they’re very close to. It will definitely be a more restrictive way of visiting. But people going a year or more without seeing their spouse or their adult children, I think, is tragic.”
While she acknowledged that care home operators are under “extreme pressure” due to the pandemic, she said it’s unacceptable that anyone should have to wait weeks to even hear from care homes about how their elderly loved ones are doing.
She said some seniors can’t use telephones themselves, or Facebook or Zoom without assistance.
“They need somebody to help them,” Mackenzie said. “That’s another reason for finding a way to allow families to re-enter the visiting stream…under significant restrictions.
“This is quite extraordinary…and we’re going to have to figure out how to do it in a way that’s humane.”
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