Seniors advocate says more people should be deemed ‘essential’ before visiting long-term care homes

Seniors advocate says more people should be deemed 'essential' before visiting long-term care homes
WatchAccess to someone in long-term care is determined by your status with the facility, whether you are deemed a social or essential visitor.

Brenda Brophy lives in Victoria, now sharing her home with her 100-year-old mother Dot, after pulling her out of her long-term care facility.

“The reasons for that were her decline in her mental health and her physical well being,” said Brophy, who brought her mother home to live with her back in September.

Unable to see her as often due to COVID restrictions, and with facilities so understaffed, Brophy says her mom’s dementia drastically worsened.  Dot, only weighing 78 pounds to begin with, lost 10 more pounds before Brenda took her home.

“I know my mom would have been gone long ago if I hadn’t been there all the time,” said the Victoria resident. “I’ve been the one to diagnose a pressure sore, a UTI, when she fell I’ve been there to make sure she’s okay.”

Dot isn’t the only one who’s recently moved out of a facility.

Business is booming for at-home medical suppliers, like HME Mobility and Accessibility in Colwood. The company’s been overwhelmed with new contracts from hospitals and new customers who also pulled their loved ones out of care homes over concern for their well being.

“Things have been flying off the shelves so we have really ramped up our ordering,” said Brianna Germain, a CSI sales leader at the mobility store. “It can be hard to navigate, especially if you don’t know anybody that works in the field and we do get a lot of people calling here.”

But for those staying in long term care, seniors advocates say a big part of the solution, is to allow the family to come in and help.

“We really need to do a better job of actually embracing the caregiving role that family members play for our residents in long-term care,” said B.C.’s seniors advocate Isobell Mackenzie.”It’s not just about keeping someone’s spirits up, they are doing essential care tasks.”

Your access to your loved one is determined by your status with the care facility, whether you are deemed an “essential” or “social” visitor for someone in long-term care in B.C.

An essential visitor can come by daily to help with care. A social visitor can only come by as often as each facility allows. Brophy, for example, could see her mom for 45 minutes every two weeks.

Last week, the Province clarified who qualifies to be that one essential visitor.

“If the physical and mental well-being of your loved one in care is going to benefit from you being there, then that’s an essential visitor,” said Terry Lake, the executive chief officer of the BC Care Providers Association.

This means most would qualify for the essential visitor status, but last year, Mackenzie says nearly half of the applications were denied.

Now with more clarity, Mackenzie hopes most applications will be accepted and urges anyone who applied for essential status but was denied, to try again.

While it’s up to the facility to deny or approve essential visitor status, the B.C. seniors advocate says you can appeal to your health authority to reverse the decision.

But it might not be as simple as that. Brophy says she tried to appeal to Island Health to get essential status for Dot, but was told her mom had to be actively dying for her to be approved — something that is not part of the provincial requirements.

Brophy hopes the Province will take the reigns away from the individual facilities, and create a province-wide application and approval process, so that more loved ones, who rightfully should be, can be approved for essential visitor status.

READ MORE: Advocates want increased visitation at care homes, say resident’s mental health is declining

Rebecca LawrenceRebecca Lawrence

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