Manitobans with loved ones in personal care homes will soon be allowed to see them in person — without a window between them — for the first time in months, the province’s top nurse announced Wednesday.
In March, visits to long-term care facilities in Manitoba were suspended to prevent possible outbreaks among seniors and those with underlying health conditions — groups that are more susceptible to severe effects from COVID-19.
On Wednesday, Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer of Manitoba Shared Health, announced plans are underway to ease those restrictions by allowing limited outdoor visits.
“We are very aware that the ability to connect with loved ones is important to the health and well-being of our residents,” Siragusa said.
“Our goal has been to find a balance for the longer term and a balance that will enable visits with loved ones to occur, with all the necessary precautions in place.”
Under the new guidelines, residents of personal care homes will be allowed up to two visitors at a time, with visits taking place outdoors. Exceptions may be made to allow indoor visits for compassionate reasons or in end-of-life cases.
Anyone looking to visit will be screened for travel history, possible exposure to COVID-19 and symptoms. Visitors will have to wash their hands before entering the personal care facility, and maintain physical distancing while there.
Any visitors showing symptoms of respiratory illness will be turned away.
That means visitors will have to continue to refrain from hugging each other.
“We are trusting people that they want to keep these [COVID-19] numbers low, they want to keep their loved ones safe and certainly we trust that they are going to follow those physical distancing measures,” said Siragusa.
WATCH | Lanette Siragusa on personal care homes welcoming outdoor visitors:
She didn’t say exactly when visits will be allowed, but said personal care home operators have to have their own visitation procedures in place no later than May 29. Care home operators also have to contact families directly about those procedures, and where and when they can visit their relatives.
Though each of Manitoba’s 127 personal care homes have to put regulations in place that best suit the facility, Siragusa said the general guidelines have been provided to facility operators.
Care homes are still being encouraged to help connect residents with loved ones via video chat or phone calls, as well as window visits, Siragusa said.
When asked how the care facilities can ensure that public health rules are followed, she said enforcement is up to the respective facilities.
“Some sites may choose to have supervision. It’s not a mandatory requirement from our perspective, but it may be something that they feel is important to have in place,” she said.
“Really we’re just trusting that the communication and the education that we’ve been sharing over the last couple of months, people understand that and respect that.”
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If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 at a care home, the facility will have to implement its outbreak protocols, Siragusa said, which could include temporarily suspending visits.
“We know there likely will be some changes required along the way, but we do believe this is a safe way to slowly and cautiously allow in-person visits to resume, while continuing to protect residents and staff in the personal care homes,” she said.
Wednesday’s announcement does not extend to visiting people in hospital, even if they come outside the facility. But hospital visits are also something provincial health officials are looking into, Siragusa said.
“Our focus originally was for the personal care homes, because that is their long-term home,” she said. “But we do want to look at the acute care, the hospital sector as well.”
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