Long-term care homes now open for safe visiting

Visitors are now welcome back to outbreak-free homes, but must follow stringent protocols. Expositor file photo

LITTLE CURRENT – On June 11, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that family visits would be able to commence at long-term care homes, retirement homes and other residential care facilities on June 18, allowing for a week’s delay to allow for guidelines to be sent to family members. 

According to a release from the premier’s office, “Long-term care homes will allow outdoor visits of one person per resident each week at a minimum. Retirement homes will resume indoor and outdoor visits in designated areas or resident suites when physical distancing can be maintained. Other residential care settings will be able to allow outdoor visits of two people at time. Physical distancing will be required for all visits. This approach will ensure the health and safety of residents, staff and visitors.”

“Thanks to the hard work of our front-line workers and the collective efforts of everyone in stopping the spread, we can now allow families to reunite with their loved ones safely and in person with strict public health measures to protect residents, visitors and staff,” said Premier Ford in the release. “But I ask everyone to be cautious and act responsibly as the battle to contain COVID-19 is not over and the risk to our loved ones still remains.”

In addition to visitors meeting the criteria outlined on the screening forms, long-term care and retirement homes, as well as other residential care settings, must themselves meet the following conditions before they welcome visitors: homes must not be in outbreak; homes must have an established process for communicating visitor protocol and the associated safety procedures; and homes must maintain the highest infection prevention and control standards. 

For retirement homes, visitor admissions will vary from home to home depending upon their individual circumstances.

The Expositor reached out to Manitoulin Centennial Manor in Little Current for information on visiting that long-term care home. Keith Clement, regional director, Extendicare responded.

“Thank you for reaching out. We are so glad that we are able to reunite our community’s families with outdoor visits. While strict COVID-19 measures were in place for everyone’s safety, the distance over the past several weeks was extremely hard.

“There are still a number of rules that we and visiting family members have to follow to make sure we can continue to protect our residents. Our families have taken these measures in stride each step of the way. We are so grateful to have their support and co-operation so that we can safely reunite loved ones while this virus remains a threat to our seniors’ health.”

The Manor also sent copies of the screening form and protocol sheet, as well as a copy of the letter that was sent to family members of the residents of the Manor.

The screening form questions will likely be familiar to many this far into the pandemic. The self-screener form asks if the visitor has a fever of 37.8° or greater, and if they are experiencing any of the following: new or worsening cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny nose or sneezing, nasal congestion, hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing, new smell or taste disorder(s), nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, unexplained fatigue/malaise, chills or headache. The form also asks if the prospective visitor has travelled or had close contact with anyone who has travelled outside of Canada in the past 14 days, whether the visitor has had close contact with anyone with respiratory illness of a confirmed or possible case of COVID-19 and, if so, they must check a box confirming that they have tested negative for COVID-19 within the previous two weeks and have not tested positive since. If any of the answers are “yes” or the visitor cannot confirm a negative COVID-19 test result, they are asked to contact the home to reschedule their “outdoor” visit.

The letter to families from Manor administrator Tara Beam confirms the Government of Ontario directive on visitation to long-term care homes and notes that the first phase involves allowing outside visits between residents and family members.

The letter goes on to outline protocols that include visits being outside mealtimes, limited to 30 minutes and allowed if the home is not in a current COVID outbreak. There is an exception for visits to a resident who is near end of life.

Visits are limited to a single visitor a week and families are advised to arrange among themselves who will visit the resident for that week. The aforementioned form must be complete and given to the staff upon each visit. The letter notes that the Manor is not responsible for providing the testing.

In addition, visitors must comply with infection, prevention and control protocols that include proper use of face or surgical procedure masks and the use of hand sanitizer before and after the visit. Hand sanitizer will be provided at the home but visitors must provide their own masks. Only service animals may accompany a visit.

Those wishing to visit the Manor are requested to contact the home at 705-368-2710 to discuss the details of their visit and to receive answers to any questions the visitor may have.

A handout given to the visitor adds a request to respect the guidelines, answer questions on the form honestly, limit the visit to only your own loved one and to be considerate and respectful when interacting with individuals as “this is a very stressful time for everyone.”

The handout also advised the visitor to check with the home regarding gifts or items that may be brought, requests the visitor to “minimize jewellery, accessories (you may wish to leave your coat in the car), cell phones may be wiped down with disinfectant, to avoid touching your face or adjusting your glasses during your visit and finally, to ensure long hair is tied back.”

The handout also included instructions on the proper way to rub hands with disinfectant.