Manitoba public health officials call for visit suspensions in personal care homes

By | March 17, 2020

Manitoba public health officials are calling for the immediate suspension of visits to seniors’ homes to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus to the elderly.

At Tuesday’s COVID-19 update, chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin told reporters there may be exceptions made for “compassionate reasons,” but people above the age of 65 are among the most at-risk of contracting the virus.

“We’re taking this step to protect those vulnerable people,” Roussin said.

The move comes a day after some private seniors’ homes in Manitoba announced they would be turning away non-essential visitors, following a weekend announcement from the Ontario government that it would be banning visitors from seniors’ homes.

Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Manitoba Shared Health, had said that the province was working on slowing the spread in long-term care facilities, but that the homes would be locked down if there was an outbreak in one of them.

“I get it,” Connie Newman, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Senior Centres, said about suspending visits.

Connie Newman says she understands why the restrictions were put in place. (CBC)

If no one is allowed in, then the virus can’t be brought in and it keeps residents safe, said Newman, who was twice denied access into personal care homes Tuesday when she tried visiting people.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, seven more presumptive cases COVID-19 have been identified in Manitoba. That brings the total number of cases in the province to 15.

Only five deaths in Canada have been linked to the virus: Ontario announced its first death Tuesday, while the other four were recorded in British Columbia.

All four B.C. deaths were people who resided in long-term care facilities. On Monday, B.C. officials announced three of the deaths were all linked to an outbreak at a care home in Vancouver.

“On the one hand, [the visitor restriction] seems like a very prudent step,” said Michelle Porter, director of the Centre for Aging at the University of Manitoba.

“But on the other hand, it could also be bad for the health of the individuals because they’re feeling more isolated.”

Monica Golden learned about the visitor restrictions in an email from the personal care home in which her father lives.

“It’s difficult,” Golden said. “I’m lucky my dad has a phone, so I can phone him on a daily basis and check in on him.”

Golden’s father is practical, she says, so although he’ll miss the visits, he understands why the restrictions are necessary.

“It’ll be very difficult for some of the other residents who have very little in terms of visitors or phones to use,” Golden said.

To keep the residents from feeling lonely, this particular home has offered to deliver emails to its residents from relatives, and residents are being allowed to call family once a day to check in, Golden said.

“They’re trying everything to keep residents happy and healthy and safe at the same time,” she said.

Residents getting lonely is one negative consequence people are concerned about when it comes to restrictions on personal care home visits. (Getty Images)

In addition to banning visitors, Siragusa announced that homes will discontinue what are called congregate meal programs.

Congregate meals allows residents of seniors’ facilities to plan and cook a hot meal together. They’re offered three to five days a week.

Golden said large social events at her father’s facility have also been cancelled.

Siragusa also announced Tuesday that Shared Health is looking into the feasibility of providing virtual pulmonary and cardiac rehabilitation programs to people.

Home care workers are also being given scripts to assess how safe it is to enter a patient’s home.

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