Canada

Ontario law lets families into LTC as essential, but it seldom occurs

Ontario’s pandemic emergency legislation allows families to be admitted to long-term care homes as essential visitors — in theory. In practice, that seldom if ever happens.

Families and organizations representing family caregivers have been pleading for them to be allowed back into long-term care homes and other institutions that have stopped allowing visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Their absence is putting already vulnerable residents at increased risk, they say.

This newspaper has spoken to more than one family who have described the physical and mental deterioration of their loved ones in long-term care after family members, who regularly cared for and fed them, were excluded.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Long Term Care confirmed Friday that emergency legislation governing long-term care homes allowed for family caregivers to be considered essential visitors and let into homes, but said the provision was simply there as guidance and long-term care homes had the discretion to do what was best to protect residents.

The vast majority of COVID-19 deaths in the province have been in long-term care homes, with outbreaks in Ottawa and elsewhere killing dozens of residents in individual homes.

Local nursing homes are failing our seniors, according to public inspection reports for 2014 on the Ministry of Long-term Care's website. The Expositor has summarized hundreds of inspection reports for readers. Brian Thompson/Brantford Expositor/Postmedia Network
A file photo from an Ontario long-term care home. Brian Thompson/Postmedia

Gillian Sloggett, a spokesperson for Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, minister of long-term care, said there was room for accommodation for family caregivers.

“As long-term care homes are closed to visitors, accommodation should be considered — but is not mandatory — for individuals performing essential support care services for residents.” Family caregivers are listed among those essential supports.

She added that every home in the province had a duty to keep their residents safe.

Vivian Stamatopoulos, an associate professor in the faculty of social sciences and humanities at Ontario Tech University, said Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care messaging on family visitation had been confusing.

In a May 6 memo, the province seemed to signal a departure from previous language on whether families could see their loved ones in long-term care, stipulating in an amendment to long-term care guidelines that family members providing “care and other health care services required to maintain good health” should be deemed essential caregivers.

“Confusingly, this amendment was published quietly without any public press release and family who have been pleading with long-term care homes for entry based on this amended documentation are still being denied entry,” Stamatopoulos said.

But that could change, according to Ottawa’s chief medical officer Dr. Vera Etches.

During Friday’s public health media briefing, Etches said Ottawa Public Health was working with health-care partners to address the issue.

She noted that more than 90 per cent of deaths from COVID-19 in the province had been among people 70 and over and the majority of them had lived in long-term care homes.

“But that risk needs to be balanced.”

OTTAWA - March 13, 2020 - Dr. Vera Etches, Medical Officer of Health, Ottawa Public Health provides an update on the City's plans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. ERROL MCGIHON, Postmedia
Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health. Errol McGihon/Postmedia

She said family members were more than visitors and should be considered partners in care.

“Often these family members are providing care. There is the need to balance the important of the care that they are providing with the risk that they will introduce infection into a population which is at higher risk.”

The care that family members provide is important, Etches said, but health officials are still looking at how to reintroduce family members in the safest way possible.

epayne@postmedia.com

Football news:

Barcelona could sign Alfonso Davies for 8 million euros in 2017
The Premier League allowed clubs to play friendly matches. The coaches will judge
Chelsea can make two serious transfers. Chilwell is one of the priorities
Tiago started training in the General group of Bayern, Luca Hernandez is engaged individually
Arsenal on the death of George Floyd: We are against racism
Marc-Andre Ter Stegen: there Is no chance that I will leave Barca this summer
Gattuso's sister died at the age of 37. Milan expressed its condolences