Emotional day at B.C. care homes as families hug loved ones for first time in a year

It was an emotional day at long-term and residential care homes across the province Thursday, as families got to hug and visit with loved ones, in person, for the first time since near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wendy O’Dwyer hadn't seen her mother in the flesh for more than year. It’s the first time in her life that she’s gone a whole year without seeing or hugging her, and Thursday as she headed into Veterans Memorial lodge in Saanich, she could hardly contain her excitement.

“Last night I turned to my husband and said, ‘Oh my god, it’s like Christmas Eve.’ That’s the kind of anticipation,” said O’Dwyer

Many restrictions were lifted Thursday at long-term and residential care homes.

Residents of the homes can now socialize and dine together inside the homes, with layers of protection and physical distancing in place. More than one friend or family member is now allowed to visit a resident and, at long last, residents are allowed to go outside and into the community.

In addition, human touch, like hugs and handholding — something thousands of vulnerable seniors have lived without through this pandemic — is now allowed.

Roger Bailey picked up his mother, Olive Bailey, from Veterans Memorial Lodge on Thursday and was delighted to be able to hug her.

“She’d almost forgotten how to hug, but then she remembered, you know, you could feel her,” said Roger.

Olive turns 100 next week. She survived the horrors of the Second World War, when she worked breaking Nazi codes for the Allies

And she’s endured a hard pandemic. Her husband and daughter both died a couple of months ago, but Thursday Roger was able to take her out for lunch with other members of their family.

“It just makes you want to appreciate those who have survived more and you want to hold everybody closer,” he said.

Despite the enthusiasm from many families desperate to see their loved ones, the BC Care Providers Association says it should have been consulted about the changes to restrictions, and that the visits are a little bit premature — especially as case counts surge in the province.

Terry Lake is the CEO of the association. He says he understands why its so important for families to connect and have in-person visits, and is exited to see that happen.

However, he says his organization wasn't consulted about the changes to the restrictions. He also says more measures should be taken to ensure the safety of care home residents.

“I think more could have been done to ensure loved ones in care are protected,” said Lake Thursday. “You know, a mandatory vaccine protocol or mandatory rapid testing for visitors."

In response, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix pointed to the fact that more than 90 per cent of care home residents in B.C. Have had a vaccination, as have 90 per cent of staff in such facilities.

Dix added that precautions like masks, sanitizing and screening are all required for visitors.

“It has been a year that people have been isolated in long-term homes,” said Dix. “It was important to ask visitors to return, so in my view, we’ve done exactly what needed to be done.”