Two essential caregivers given access to nursing homes

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Family members visit a resident at Lambton Meadowview Villa through a window in mid-March. Seniors will now be able to have two caregivers at their bedside - usually family members.

After six months of keeping family from the bedside of seniors in long term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial government is now allowing two caregivers to be by their side without time restrictions.

In a news release late Wednesday, the Minister of Long Term Care, Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, made the announcement saying the changes take effect Sept. 9.

“Since March, ‘essential visitors’ to long-term care homes have included individuals performing essential support services or those visiting a very ill or palliative resident. Under this umbrella, ‘caregivers’ are essential visitors and important partners in care who provide direct care to residents — such as helping with feeding, mobility, hygiene, or cognitive stimulation. They can be family members or friends, privately hired caregivers, paid companions and/or translators,” says the government news release.

“Operators have been encouraged to facilitate visits by caregivers, however, implementation has been inconsistent.”

The policy has been so inconsistent that some people with family in long term care were still only permitted half hour visits behind a chain link fence.

Two weeks ago, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms asked an Ontario court to demand the government provide seniors the access to family they are given under the constitution. The Centre was still waiting to hear if the appeal would be heard.

“The policy provides clarity that caregivers are allowed to visit homes at any time, including during an outbreak, subject to direction from the local public health unit. This will support better implementation across homes,” the news release stated.

The updated visitor policy includes:

  • Each resident and/or their substitute decision maker may designate a maximum of two caregivers.
  • Caregivers can visit, without time limits.
  • If a home is not in outbreak, and the resident is not self-isolating or symptomatic, caregivers can visit together. If a home is in outbreak, or the resident is self-isolating or symptomatic, they must visit one at a time to limit risk of transmission and follow direction from the local public health unit.

“Bringing comfort and care, caregivers make a vital contribution to the overall well-being of long-term care residents,” said Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care. “Today’s announcement will ensure that guidelines on their visits are applied consistently across homes so that all residents get the support they deserve.”

The government has been widely criticized for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in long term care including the lack of personal protective equipment for workers, a long standing shortage of personal support workers across the province and allowing employees to work in more than one home until several weeks into the worst of the pandemic surge in Ontario, which potentially spread the virus to other nursing homes.

Over 1,800 seniors have died of COVID-19.

Here are more details