CALGARY — Starting May 10th, seniors living at long term care facilities in Alberta will be able to meet loved ones they haven’t seen in over a year.
The province will allow residents to name four designated supported persons, up from two.
“This is a safe and prudent step forward. We’re not getting rid of all the restrictions at continuing care facilities there will continue to be limits on who can visit,” said Premier Jason Kenny at a Monday news conference.
Indoor visits with four people from the same households will be allowed, following restrictions including masks. Outdoor gatherings will be expanded up to 10 people.
“It’s so important for the seniors to have family come and visit. We forget that a lot of these people in long term care facilities are suffering from dementia and they can’t do a virtual visit, they don’t understand what’s going on,” said Brian van Vliet, whose 91-year-old mother lives in a southeast extended care facility.
Iris van Vliet lives with dementia. Her husband passed away last August. Van Vliet said his brothers live out of town and haven’t been able to visit their mother who is at McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre.
“For my brothers who haven’t been able to see her and my kids who haven’t been able to go in, in a long time, it’s huge for us. We’re excited that at least we can go see her as she gets near the end of life. We can go and hold her hand and talk to her,” said van Vliet.
The province said the easing of restrictions comes as most residents and staff at long-term care centres are fully vaccinated.
As of Monday, there are 23 long term care and supported living homes with outbreaks in the Calgary area.
But active cases have declined dramatically from the peak of 831 on Dec. 27, 2020 to 44 as of this past week. The premier said the third wave isn’t impacting those 70 and older in the same way.
The health minister said the changes are not mandatory. Facilities will need the agreement of residents to develop a visiting approach that works for them.
“The important thing is that at least one caregiver or two be allowed to actually give support and care, things like feeding, walking them down the hall,” said Ruth Adria with the elder advocates society of Alberta.
“We have found that the elderly, when they’re sitting in their rooms all the time, they become immobilized, they can no longer walk because there’s no human contact, they become mute and confused.”
Adria said it’s important for seniors, especially those with declining health conditions to be around someone they trust. She said pre-COVID, care centres relied on visitors to be an extra set of hands.
“When these caregivers who are not allowed to attend these family members essentially, the system collapsed. It should be said that the long-term care system has always been underfunded and understaffed and that goes back decades,” said Adria.
Brian van Vliet said the last time he entered the McKenzie Towne facility he had to wear additional PPE including goggles. He said the risk of transmission is low because there are so many protocols in place.
“I think it’s great for the seniors, more so than for the families, the seniors need that in-person contact,” he said.