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

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons. File photo.
MP Morrison calls Keystone XL permit cancellation ‘devastating news’

Kootenay-Columbia MP reacts to the Conservative Party’s removal of a controversial Ontario MP

Interior Health reported 91 new COVID-19 cases in the region Jan. 20, 2021 and three additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
95 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health, two deaths

Another member of Vernon’s Noric House has passed

The Greater Vernon Ringette Association is one of six Vernon sports groups benefitting from B.C.’s Local Sport Relief Fund. (Morning Star file photo)
Relief funds keep Okanagan in the game

Clubs at risk of closure due to inability to offer programs and fundraise

Golden Rotary Club president Isabelle Simard presents a check in Invermere to the winner of Golden’s bingo. (Michele LaPointe photo)
Golden Bingo continues to grow; expands to other BC communities

The money is going back into the community through various Rotary projects

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

Kevin Lee Barrett is charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault. (Facebook)
Court hears of victim’s injuries in West Kelowna attempted murder trial

Two-week-long trial continues for Kevin Barrett, accused of trying to kill mother in West Kelowna

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Disgraced Kelowna social worker faces another class-action lawsuit

Zackary Alphonse claims he was not informed of resources available to him upon leaving government care

A mother hold hands with her daughter while sharing about her struggles with addiction during Overdose Awareness Day. (Jesse Major/Black Press file)
Overdose and suicide support group starts in Penticton

Penticton was one of the province’s communities hardest hit by the overdose crisis in 2020

Jan. 21 marks the 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st century, according to some. (Black Press Media file photo)
The 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st century is upon us

Milestone won’t be back for another 100 years

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Voting is the number one, bare minimum way to have your voice heard by government. (File photo)
Jocelyn’s Jottings: Want to make change? Here are some suggestions

As a citizen you have a voice, you just have to know who to talk to

Most Read