Manitoulin Lodge and other Jarlette homes reopen to essential caregivers

GORE BAY – Manitoulin Lodge Nursing Home in Gore Bay has reopened to allow essential caregivers into the building to provide important support for their loved ones, after a period earlier this year when parent company Jarlette Health Services barred essential caregivers from all of its sites.

“Earlier this year, essential visits were temporarily suspended to the home as an added layer of protection for our residents, family members and team members. With an increase in positive COVID-19 cases across the province and new variants of concern posing an increasingly high risk to our community, this difficult yet proactive decision was made out of an abundance of caution, as it is our duty to exercise every measure possible to safeguard all those we serve,” said Stephanie Barber, Jarlette spokesperson, in an email to The Expositor.

The Ontario government took a less-restrictive approach to essential visitors. Its policy during the pandemic has been that even in grey-lockdown zones or at facilities experiencing an outbreak, one essential caregiver is still allowed to visit family members for extra support and much-needed connection.

In health units that are in green-prevent or yellow-protect stages of restrictions, Ontario allows up to two essential caregivers to visit a resident.

Despite the temporary ban, Jarlette still allowed an essential caregiver to enter the home to provide compassionate and end-of-life care to a resident.

Ontario Health Coalition, in a news release February 8, urged the Ontario government to intervene and reverse this policy. All Jarlette homes paused essential visits, along with a few other care facilities, but the majority remained open to at least one essential caregiver.

The province issued a COVID-19 visiting policy to long-term care (LTC) facilities on December 26, 2020, which included directive three, allowing essential caregivers to still attend homes even in the hardest-hit areas of the province.

Regular visitors could not attend, but essential caregivers were intended to still visit homes, provided they followed all health and safety protocol at individual homes.

“At this difficult time, it is more important than ever that residents have access to essential caregivers for assistance and support,” stated lawyer Jane Meadus, an advocate at Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, in the Ontario Health Coalition press release. “Under the Resident’s Bill of Rights in the LTC Homes Act it is unlawful for homes to interfere with this right.”

“We all know the suffering and death of residents resulting from isolation and inadequate care. Locking out all essential caregivers is not a solution; it causes harm, and in some cases, irreparable harm,” stated health coalition executive director Natalie Mehra.

Ms. Barber, in her statement to The Expositor, acknowledged the impact that suspending such visits may have had on both residents of Manitoulin Lodge and their families.

“Our team (members) have, and continue to be, wholly committed to supporting the comfort, safety and well-being of our residents, and worked diligently to facilitate virtual visits and phone calls to maintain the flow of communication and connection with loved ones,” she stated.

This issue has been a challenging one to balance during the pandemic—ensuring vulnerable people stay connected with their families and friends while minimizing the risks of bringing more potential infection sources into the building.

As much as the SARS CoV-2 virus poses significant risks, the hidden epidemic of loneliness has proven to be a major issue over the past year according to studies on the well-being of LTC residents.

The policy at Jarlette homes has since eased, but Ms. Barber did not respond to The Expositor’s query as to the date essential caregivers could re-enter the home.