‘They are the backbone:’ B.C. announces $500,000 for family caregivers

'They are the backbone:' B.C. announces $500,000 for family caregivers
Isobel Mackenzie, seniors advocate for B.C. announces funding for Family Caregivers of B.C. on Sunday, April 26.

The British Columbia government is providing more money to an organization that supports family caregivers as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

On Sunday afternoon, the province announced that they will be providing $500,000 for the Family Caregivers of British Columbia, which will allow the charitable organization to extend their virtual tool kit and increase the capacity on their help phone line. The virtual tool kit allows family caregivers across the province to connect with the organization and each other.

Isobel Mackenzie, a seniors advocate for B.C., made the announcement on Sunday. She said there are over one million caregivers in the province, and that 30,000 provide significant care like bathing — and many are struggling in the COVID-19 crisis.

“They are the backbone of seniors care in this province and in this country,” Mackenzie said.

Mackenzie said family caregivers who are feeling “overwhelmed” amid the pandemic can reach out to the Family Caregivers of B.C. for support. She also said she recognizes that what many caregivers need right now, is some relief.

“I know the help you really need right now is some relief from your caregiving duties and some time for yourself and that is incredibly challenging to provide to you right now and I’m very sorry about that,” she said.

Barb MacLean, Executive Director of the Family Caregivers of British Columbia, says the support is critical right now.

“They are under tremendous financial strain, emotional well-being is a key component. Looking at their physical well-being,” said MacLean.

“They might never have had to do some of the tasks that they are doing and are going to have to do, do you know how to give someone a shower? do you know how to transfer from a bed to the chair to the toilet? there are real things people are stressed about and we need to make sure they are okay.”

Many of the home supports for families have been put on hold.

As a result calls of people in distress are up, so this new support starts with their website or a call to their support line.

“The caregiver typically stops caring about their own well-being and focuse naturally on the person they care about and care for,” said MacLean.

“We fear many cases that people will break and will become that patient and that person will have to go into that care facility and those resources are just not available right now.”

But many say  there’s still more to be done — especially as limited access to care facilities drags on.

“Often the [caregiver is] who makes a difference between whether someone eats their meal or doesn’t eat their meal, if their dentures fit, if they have their glasses on, and that social continuity over time,” said MacLean.

“You are the one who knows how you are doing and that has been incredibly distressing for caregivers.”

The crisis also hits home for MacLean, her grandmother passed away in hospital during the SARS epidemic.

She and her family had to fight to gain access to her, so she would not be alone when she died.

In response to a question from the media about restrictions on visiting family members who are dying at care homes, Mackenzie said there are exemptions that allow visitation when a family member is in palliative or compassionate care. She said that some care homes have been granting exemptions but many are not.

“I know that some are [granting visitation exemptions]. I certainly have heard of cases of that,” Mackenzie said, adding. “I’ve heard of some care homes are simply not aware that there is this exemption, they think there is this blanket prohibition.”

Mackenzie said there needs to be better communication about visitation exemptions and that “getting that clear message out” is important.

“I am going to be communicating to the care homes to carefully look at that language and make accommodations when they can,” she said.

Mackenzie also said she will encourage care homes to find ways for families to be with their loved ones when they are dying.

“We have got to find a way, we have got to do it safely, but I think we have to make that effort,” she said.

There are only about 19 active COVID-19 outbreaks at care facilities in B.C., according to Mackenzie, who said she hopes the situation will stabilize soon.

Family Caregivers of B.C.’s website can be found here.

Nicholas PescodNicholas Pescod

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