After a 'lonely' year, visitor restrictions easing in long-term care Thursday

For 85-year-old Barry Ibbott, it’s the change he’s been hoping for.

“Definitely looking forward to seeing more familiar faces,” said Ibbott, who lives in a long-term care facility.

After more than a year, pandemic visitor restrictions in B.C.'s long-term care homes are finally easing starting Thursday.

“The biggest problem is loneliness,” said Ibbott. “These 400 square feet of space...it’s still lonely when you don’t get out."

He is now looking forward to an outing with his daughter in the coming days, something that hasn’t been allowed during the pandemic.

For many families with loved ones in long-term care, the easing of restrictions means the first time in more than 12 months that they will get to hug their loved one again or see them in person.

Pat Morton was sorting through her emotions as she headed in to see her husband John.

“I’m just anxious to see my husband today,” she said outside Laurel Place in Surrey.

Pat and John have been married 55 years, but visits have been limited since he was transferred from hospital into long-term care during the pandemic.

“I hope we can make up for some of this lost time that we have,” she said.

Morton had never been inside John’s room before. She would finally be able to hold his hand and embrace him.

“I’m just so thankful I’m able to see him today and give him a hug,” she told CTV News.

She's grateful the home kept her husband safe, but the separation has still been difficult.

"It’s been extremely hard. So hard for families and the residents themselves," she said.

At Menno Home in Abbotsford, Sandy Tipton is visiting her 99-year-old mom, Helen Mackenrot.

“It’s been so long, too long,” said Tipton, holding her mom’s hand.

“The last time I came was March 16, 2020, and that happened to be mom’s birthday.”

Tipton, of course, didn’t know the home would close to social visits the very next day.

She says her mom has been well taken care of.

“Everybody here is just wonderful,” she said.

Tabor Home in Abbotsford, which lost 25 residents during a COVID-19 outbreak, has also re-opened.

“It’s a day of celebration. We’ve taken the locks off the front door and re-opened,” said Dan Levitt, Tabor Home’s executive director.

Tabor has an online booking system, but all visitors will also be screened and wear masks.

“We still have safety measures in place but we are so excited we have this online booking system. We’re so excited to see those family members come in the door,” he said.

But not all care homes have been so welcoming.

Some families say they have had a difficult time getting information from the facilities regarding how to book a visit, but other homes have already begun welcoming visitors.

The B.C. Care Providers Association says anyone planning a visit is asked to work with operators to keep workplaces free of the spread of dangerous new COVID-19 variants.

“We have been asking the provincial health officer for months to relax restrictions on care homes in a way that ensured the safety of residents and staff,” says the association’s CEO, Terry Lake. “We did not anticipate the re-opening would be so wide ranging and coincide with a surge in cases and new variants that spread more easily."

Lake noted that bringing in visitors brings "increased risks and elevated anxiety among staff," and urged families to follow all necessary precautions.

“We ask for everyone to please be patient with the process, and to respect new guidelines on the number of visitors and the requirement for masking and hand sanitizing," he said.

Last week, health officials announced updates in the policies around long-term care and assisted living.

They include that all residents can have “regular, frequent and routine” visits.

Visitors are also allowed to stay for a minimum of one hour and a maximum of two visitors plus a child can be present during a visit as opposed to only one designated social visitor.

Ibbott is concerned that if people aren’t careful, there could be COVID-19 outbreaks and homes could get shut down again.

“If they can control people coming and going, I think it will be wonderful,” he said.