Nearly three and a half months of waiting is over for those with loved ones in long-term care or assisted living facilities in British Columbia.

British Columbia’s health officials have decided to allow visitors to long-term care homes and assisted living facilities under strict province-wide guidelines as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, and the province’s minister of health, Adrian Dix announced new visitation guidelines for long-term care homes and assisted living facilities in B.C. during a press conference on June 30.

“There have been many dark and anxious days, but today is a brighter day for us all,” Henry said. “Easing restrictions in Phase 2 and Phase 3 has been about finding the balance, the balance to protect British Columbians while lessening the negative impacts and now the timing is right to do the same thing for a long-term care and assisted living facilities.”

Officials also announced $160 million will be provided to 680 long-term care and seniors assisted living residences, including public and private facilities. Facilities will be able to use the money to hire as many as three FTE employees, who would be responsible for ensuring visitations are conducted safely. Additionally, the province said it will contribute $26.5 million will also be provided to facilities to “address costs” that they incurred between March and June of this year.

“This could total as many as 2,040 additional staff, dedicated to ensuring protection and control measures for COVID-19 are followed to support safe visitation,” said health minister Dix. “The additional staff will also work to schedule visits and make sure visitors do not enter the facility if they are sick.”

Under the new visitation guidelines, residents at either long-term care homes or assisted living facilities will be allowed to have a “single designated visitor” in a designated visiting area located with the facility.

Visitors will be required to wear a mask and visits will need to be booked in advance in order to ensure visitations are properly spaced out throughout the day.

Long-term care homes and assisted living facilities will be required to develop a written safety plan and have designated visitor screening staff. Personal service providers, including barbers and hairstylists, will be allowed to come into both types of facilities, but must submit a safety plan that is based on WorkSafeBC guidelines.

B.C.’s top doctor also said that those in assisted living facilities will have a little “more freedom” and can have their visits outside of their place of residence, provided they follow public health and safety guidelines.

“It may take some facilities a week or 10 days to get all provisions in place but I know they are working on it and it will happen,” she said.

The province will review the plans on a monthly basis and make adjustments when needed, said Henry, adding that people need to be patient for just “a few more days” while the province continues to implement all the necessary safety plans.

Long-term care and assisted living facilities have been some of the hardest hit by COVID-19, seeing heavy restrictions implemented throughout the pandemic by the B.C. Government as a result.

Marilee O’Neil, has longed for her 72-year-old husband, Gerry, who has Alzheimer’s disease and is in a long-term care facility in Nanaimo.

“Every single day is hard,” she told CHEK.

O’Neil is hopeful she will be in the same room with her husband within days.

Gerry’s Nanaimo care home, like nearly 680 facilities across B.C., has been closed to visitors months to reduce the spread of COVID, a move that has likely saved lives.

Yet on the short 15-minute video chat she’s allowed each week, O’Neil finds her way to touch him even in this pandemic.

“You see him light up and then the wheels start turning,” O’Neil said.

Unfortunately, Gerry doesn’t recognize his wife any longer, but when she plays the ukulele for him, like she did before he lost his memory, he connects by pointing.

“It’s wonderful. That’s the one connection that we have where I feel like he still knows me you know,” O’Neil said.

Now to her huge relief, the couple will finally be able to see each other in person again thanks to the new measures announced by the province today.

 

Graham Cox, Nicholas Pescod, Skye Ryan