Laila McMillan walks hand-in-hand with her mother to Quadra and Fairfield, the smoking corner for residents.
This busy corner is the only place 91-year-old Willy van Veen is allowed to smoke, outside her residence at Mount St. Mary Hospital.
“How does it feel to smoke?” McMillan asked her mother.
“Oh, it’s nice. I’ve smoked all my life,” Van Veen replied.
Until recently, Van Veen, who picked up the habit 80 years ago as a child living in what was then war-torn Holland, could enjoy her cigarettes in the hospital’s garden.
“She could smoke whenever she wanted to,” McMillan said. “She tended to do it after meals, she’d go into the garden, a beautiful garden there with seating.”
But the facility’s temporary pandemic smoking policy changed on June 4.
It reverted back to off-site smoking.
That policy put into place after a resident died while smoking on the grounds of Mount St. Mary Hospital two years ago.
The hospital’s chief executive officer, Sara Fowler, said if an exemption was made, the safety measures that are embedded would be compromised, and possibly resident as well as staff safety would be jeopardized.
“In order to ensure that all 200 residents live with us are safe, and staff who work with us are safe, that’s why we have the policy,” she said.
Furthermore, Van Veen, who has dementia, must be escorted off the property in order to smoke.
“I feel like I am in jail. And I do feel like that,” Van Veen said.
McMillan says the facility has offered smoking cessation alternatives for her mom as an option.
But it’s only created more stress.
“Every day she tells me, she phones me up and tells me she wants to get out of this place,” McMillan said.
Van Veen is one of just four smokers of the 200 residents at Mount St. Mary.
British Columbia’s seniors advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, believes there could be a compromise.
“Maybe we could be looking at certain circumstances, and this might be one, where the family member to visit is viewed within the context of the essential service they are providing for that person in long term care.”
For now, mother and daughter make the trip to the corner as often as they can, together.