Skepticism as B.C. families promised more access to loved ones in long-term care

After 56 years of marriage, her husband still gave her a kiss at every meal.

The couple lived in the same Kamloops care home until 91-year-old Ron Osborne died a few weeks ago.

And now Coleen Osborne, 89, needs her family more than ever.

But they can’t see her because of spiking COVID-19 numbers and provincial health orders that have shut out all but essential visitors from long-term care facilities.

“My worry is that she is in severe depression and this will kill her, not seeing her family,” said her daughter-in-law Cathy Nelson.

She says the isolation is taking a huge emotional toll.

“I think they (health officials) are making a huge mistake. I really feel if you talk to the majority of seniors, they’d rather risk COVID and see their mother,” Nelson said.

Of the 33,000 long-term care residents in B.C., just 26 per cent had a designated essential visitor prior to the current lockdown, leaving many seniors entirely separated from their loved ones.

“Those visitors are critical for helping with feeding, dressing. And when our staff is in such short supply, these are some things that are extremely important in order to provide the very best care,” said Terry Lake, CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association.

He says B.C.’s medical health officer should be changing the order.

“What she should say is every resident of long-term care deserves at least one visitor. Period,” said Lake.

But Dr. Bonnie Henry is instead promising to open up care homes to social visitors very soon.

“We’re committed to making sure we can get back to having your one designated social visitor as well as essential visitors as the rapid antigen testing is being rolled out across long-term care homes and as staffing allows in this coming week,” Henry said in a COVID-19 briefing Tuesday.

“This will be in place this week as this is being distributed to long-term care homes and every home develops their plan to support this.”

Despite the promise, one care home operator who did not want to be identified, told CTV News that even if rapid tests were made available to all sites this week, they don’t have the staff to administer them.

Meanwhile, Lake, who told CTV News that B.C. care providers were not consulted about the lockdown order, says some care homes are at the breaking point when it comes to staffing levels.

“The biggest risk to residents in care at the moment is the shortage of staff, not the virus actually because of the booster residents received. So let’s make sure staff stay healthy, that they’re able to work and that family members who help the staff are able to help as well,” Lake said.

Meanwhile, Osborne’s daughter-in-law says despite Dr. Henry’s promise, she holds out little hope that the doors of long-term care facilities will open anytime soon for visitors.