New rules for new beginnings: how our local seniors are coping since the outbreak
With COVID-19, our world changed. Stores and businesses closed. People were told to stay at home and isolate, and retirement homes and long-term care facilities were locked down. There has been some easing of restrictions regarding retirement homes and other facilities, but it still is not back to pre-COVID times.
The executive director of The Waterford Retirement Residence in Ottawa, Mélanie Lefebvre has been front and centre during this pandemic. “It certainly is a relief for our residents to have visitors again,” says Lefebvre, “but it’s not as easy as just walking through the door anymore.” Right now, for anyone to visit a loved one in their residence, they must sign an attestation that they have had a COVID test in the last two weeks and that it is negative, and they must wear a procedure mask. There is a limit of two visitors per household. “We really encourage outdoor visits while still maintaining physical distancing of two metres,” says Lefebvre, “and with the nicer weather, it’s great for a walk.”
Betty and Norman MacPherson are residents of Waterford. For two months, they had their meals delivered to their room. The dining room at Waterford is now operating again, but with numerous restrictions. “It is nice to get back to the dining room,” they both say,” but now it’s like eating in a cafeteria instead of the fine dining we were used to because of restrictions.” They’re lucky to have family in the city. “Our son Dale lives here as well as grandchildren Ali, Maya and Damon – we enjoy our patio visits,” says Norman. “And we Skype with family in Houston… we’re making it work.”
Amica Senior Lifestyles also follows the conditions on visitors as laid out by the Ontario Ministry of Health. “We know how important family visits are,” says Erin Courtney, community relations director for Amica, “so we’ve set up designated visiting areas both inside and outside where residents can meet.” Courtney says that the areas are disinfected between visits. “Safety is a priority,” says Courtney, “so prior to any visit we provide visitors with educational sheets with mask safety advice and tips on reducing any transmission during the visit.” She says that during the lockdown, Amica residents stayed in touch via Skype, FaceTime, phone calls and outdoor visits. “We did manage an outdoor birthday party for one resident who was turning 95. Friends and family surprised the resident in the courtyard as they looked down from their balcony. It was special and provided a spirit boost for everyone.”
Mary Boutette, COO of the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre, understands the importance of family visits. “It is a relief to have families be able to visit their loved ones,” says Boutette. “Being able to visit is essential to the well-being of our residents and residents of any facility, for that matter.” The Perley allows both outdoor and indoor visits with slightly different rules for each with both following the Ontario Ministry of Health’s guidelines. “We still have established times for visits,” says Boutette, “and they have to be scheduled. But we’re moving to self-scheduling. And because each resident has a private room, those visits can be longer, which is lovely for enabling family relationships.”
At one point after the COVID virus hit, Suzanne Charest’s son thought of bringing his grandfather home to live with them instead of residing at the Perley. But both quickly realized that Gilles Charest would be safer and more comfortable staying at the Perley. “He gets exceptional care and attention,” says Charest, “but it’s still tough. My husband and I did a window visit for his 85th birthday – he was so happy. And we finally did an in-person outside visit a couple of weeks ago and my father cried. It broke my heart.” Charest says her father is quite shy and family is especially important to him. “He has a girlfriend and he just moved to a room that is closer to hers, so that has helped a lot.” Charest now plans to get a COVID test every two weeks so she can do indoor visits. “It’s a small price of admission.”
In the spring issue of Parenting Times, Sarah White talked about the concerns she had for her mother about living alone, and how she thought she might fare better in a retirement home where Sarah thought she would be safer. “That idea is off the table for now,” says White, “and likely for the near future given what is happening with this virus.” Sarah and her husband and daughter have been vigilant about keeping her mother safe and following a new set of rules. “At first, only my husband shopped for groceries. Then I would clean the surfaces and put everything into Tupperware. We’ve eased off on that a bit, but are still extra cautious.” White says it has been hard on her mother and she knows she’s lonely. “She really misses her friends and her bridge games,” says White, “and since she’s not driving anymore, it means we are her source of getting out of the house.” White is glad her mother is safe and that she, her husband, and daughter can provide the family support and comfort she needs right now.
The rules of engagement
For now, the rules applying to visits in retirement homes and long-term care facilities are the new normal. Although these residences will all be consistently following the provincial guidelines, each one will adapt the rules to suit their own facilities layout. Planning a visit? Call ahead and find out the rules, so a loved one can be safe during a visit. Rules can change daily as well.
City requirements for visiting:
Ontario Ministry of Health guidelines: http://health.gov.on.ca/en/pro/programs/ltc/directive3_faq_20200616.aspx#:~:text=Limit%20one%20visitor%20at%20a,appropriate%20staff%20members%20to%20access.
Keeping our seniors safe
COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. It’s also put seniors – either in their own homes or in retirement and long-term care residences – under lockdown. Thankfully, the rules around visits have been eased somewhat, but as most administrators in these facilities know, that can change daily or if Ottawa gets a second wave of the virus. CARP Ottawa, along with several other seniors’ organizations, have been advocating to keep our most vulnerable safe. Anyone can join CARP, and there are numerous benefits and discounts for CARP members.