Talks to bring families back to nursing homes underway

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The head of Lambton’s long term care division says there are discussions underway at the provincial level to find a way to allow families back into nursing homes to support their loved ones.

On March 16, the province locked down all long term care homes to stop the spread of COVID-19 to the vulnerable population. Even so, nursing homes across the province have been fighting to keep the virus at bay. More than 70 per cent of the people who have died of COVID-19 in Ontario have been in long term care homes.

Tuesday, the province released a damning report from Canadian military personnel who have been working in five of the hardest hit homes in the Greater Toronto Area. The premier pledged Ontario’s Chief Coroner would look into the deaths there and forward his investigation to police to see if criminal charges should be laid.

But there also have been calls to allow families to return to the homes and Lambton’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Sudit Ranade thinks it should be considered. Ranade says there are residents who are “really suffering from not seeing their loved ones and that is important to consider. I have always been a strong supporter to a humane approach to the situation which includes getting people to see the loved ones.”

But he says some basic questions have to be answered, including is there enough personal protective equipment to give to visitors and would it be an occupational health and safety risk for staff.

Ranade says the public has to adapt and start to live with COVID-19. “We know that there is transmission despite these things (strict measures including lock down)
“It is time to think about how do we incorporate this into our lives.”

Jane Joris, the head of long term care in Lambton, says there are discussions taking place in with Public Health Ontario officials about how families can return. At least one of the options under consideration is visiting outdoors to lessen the possibility of COVID-19 entering the homes – its a tactic Manitoba is using.

“Everybody recognizes how difficult this is for families with people in residence,” says Joris. “We are worried about people’s emotional health. And we have upped our social work staff as well as recreation staff so even though we can’t do group activities, we’re making sure that people have a little bit of socialization every day in some way, shape or form. But we are worried about people, there’s no question about that.”

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams says Premier Doug Ford and the Minister of Long Term Care are concerned allowing family into the homes would lead to more COVID-19 outbreaks.

“I have put together some documents …that would permit more visiting, perhaps a liberalization of that and ways they could do something.”

Williams says keeping family members six feet apart could present other problems, particularly if the senior had hearing problems.

“Without all that ongoing socialization the condition can deteriorate. This is a concern I’ve had since we started back a long time ago – how soon can we lift this and much to my perplextion – as the cases in long term accrue it certainly made it more concerning…we’re hoping as they’re seeing evidence…of overall numbers coming down that we could do that,” he told reporters during a media briefing Wednesday.

“I’m still pushing to see if that committee and the Ministry of Long Term care will allow the liberalization of visitation, with some caveats and protections of course…I keep asking and I keep being told not quiet yet.”

“It’s frustrating and its a long haul, I think it is way too long, but you have to be careful.”

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the associate chief medical officer, said the group which deals with issues in long term care is seriously considering allowing family back into the homes, perhaps through outdoor visits.

“It is a balancing of risks and making sure the conditions are optimal to allow, but it is being seriously considered and hopefully will happen for sooner than later.”

Yaffe added it was a decision to be made by the ministry of long term care.

During a news conference Tuesday, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was asked if it was time to push for families to be allowed back into long term care homes, particularly since many are concerned after hearing the report from the military. “If we valued support of family members we would find a way to gown them up and get them in there,” she told reporters. “But I can’t even put that in my mind right now, these practical solutions.”

So far, when Premier Doug Ford has been asked about the issue, he says it is still “too dangerous” to allow families to visit.