First off, though, facilities must have a written COVID-19 safety plan in place
After months of living in isolation from their families, 32,000 residents in long-term care will soon be able to have visitors.
Once facilities have a written COVID-19 safety plan in place, which could be as soon as a week or 10 days, designated family members and friends will be able to see their loved ones in person outside or inside, including in their rooms.
To make sure that happens safely, the provincial government is providing $160 million in new money to hire up to 2,040 staff — the equivalent of up to three new employees for each of the province’s 680 long-term care and assisted living facilities.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, said Tuesday afternoon that the responsibility of opening up facilities housing vulnerable seniors has weighed heavily on her and everyone in public health.
“Of course, we’re all a little anxious because we know what can happen if we don’t get this right,” she said at a news conference.
“While I know everybody is very excited and anxious to see their family or their friends, please be patient for a few more days until we ensure all the safety measures are in place.”
Henry said to start, residents will be able to designate one visitor who will be able to meet with them in a designated visiting area.
No visitors will be allowed at a facility that has an outbreak of COVID-19, she said.
Each facility’s safety plan will include designated staff who will screen visitors and provide guidance on how to follow all safety protocols.
All visitors will be required to bring and wear a mask. Visits will have to be booked in advance.
Barbers and hairdressers will be allowed into facilities once they have completed their own WorkSafeBC safety plans.
“We will be monitoring this on an ongoing basis to make sure we can expand access,” Henry said.
“We start small and expand as we can.”
On March 9, the first COVID-19 death in B.C. was a resident of the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver. Shortly after, visits were restricted to all long-term care and assisted living facilities in B.C.
Some restrictions on “essential visits” were eased during Phase 2 of B.C.’s reopening plan, but were mostly related to end-of-life situations and providing help with feeding and mobility.
As of Monday, 386 residents and 229 staff in long-term care have tested positive for the virus. They account for 21 per cent of the 2,904 who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that leads to COVID-19. Since the pandemic began, 174 have died in B.C.
Health Minister Adrian Dix announced new funding to allow the province’s long-term care and assisted living facilities to hire enough employees to schedule and manage visits as well as ensure safety protocols are followed.
He also announced another $26.5 million to cover the added costs of screening, sick time, delivering meals and other COVID-19 safety measures that long-term care and assisted living facilities have had to implement between March 30 and June 1.
“This discussion of how to manage visits is among the most difficult decisions … I’ve ever been involved with,” Dix said.
“It affects my family personally. It affects tens of thousands of families across B.C. As a result of decisions today, because there are 32,000 people in long-term care, there will be 32,000 more potential visitors.”
Mike Klassen, acting CEO of B.C. Care Providers Association which represents about 350 organizations including private and non-government long-term care and assisted living facilities, said “for the most part it is a good day for B.C. seniors and their family members.
“We have seen this lockdown for nearly four months now and we know it has been very difficult for residents and their family members,” he said.
“We are pleased that Dr. Henry and Minister Dix have listened to care providers and to our recommendations that are going to be slowly implemented in coming weeks and hopefully will give relief to family members.”
Isobel Mackenzie, B.C.’s seniors advocate who monitors and analyzes seniors’ issues and services, said the new visiting plan was thoughtful and comprehensive.
“If having a better plan took two or three weeks longer, we’re better served to have a better plan because we now have something that can serve us for the next year,” Mackenzie said.
“For me, what is most important is that it has allowed for indoor visits.”
She believes visitors will be especially careful and follow all the safety protocols to protect their loved ones.
“I have faith that they will be very responsible and that we’ll be able to open up to more than one visitor,” she said.
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