‘Where will they draw the line?’ Home care visits scaled back during COVID-19 pandemic

By | April 14, 2020

WINNIPEG — Home care visits considered non-essential are being put in hold in Manitoba, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The province is scaling back services like bathing, laundry and cleaning.

Forty-three year old Caroline Toews who is visually and hearing impaired, relies on these services. 

Personal care workers come by her Winnipeg apartment on a weekly basis to wash her hair, which has become more difficult after an eye surgery, Toews said. They also come once every other week to do laundry.

“It’s on a different floor. I have back issues which sometimes make it hard for me to bend and move. Taking things in and out of the machine is a struggle,” said Toews.

“For anyone with a disability, whether it’s my blindness or somebody in a wheelchair, I would like to be able to see us receive the services we need that help us live independently. Where will they draw the line”? 

Chief public health nurse Lanette Siragusa said Tuesday the changes affect “things like hygiene and house-keeping, the kind of things that are done on a less frequent basis. Wound care and medication assistance would keep going.”

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said the health care system is going through an “unprecedented time” and the WRHA isn’t expecting job losses to result from the reduced service. 

“These measures are being implemented due to a combination of drivers, including to mitigate the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to both staff and clients. This will be done in collaboration with the clients and their families in order to ensure any adaptations to services will continue to support the health needs of clients and the safety of caregivers.”

‘I DON’T THINK ANYONE SHOULD GO WITHOUT BATHING’

Debbie Boissonneault, president of CUPE 204, the union representing personal care workers, said she was caught off guard by the move. 

“We didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. We are quite concerned because some of the vulnerable people that need this care may go without.”

Boissonneault said she would have preferred to see stronger protections for workers, instead of reducing services. 

“I don’t think anyone should go without bathing.” 

She said the province is providing more personal protective equipment for workers, but more is needed. 

“If they have the proper PPE there is no reason why they can’t do the job. The jobs were put into place because people need care.” 

FAMILIES AFFECTED BY DEMENTIA

The changes also affect 90-year-old Nettie Unger, who has dementia.

“She’s being cut back to one bath per week,” said her daughter Margie Rey. 

Rey said her mother can’t receive visitors because of restrictions to protect residents from COVID-19 at her assisted living home.

“Sad to see homecare in a situation right now, where they don’t have families to pick up the ball. They can’t go in there and do the additional work. I can’t go and give my mother a bath.”

“Dementia is challenging to patients, their caregivers and everybody in their circle,” said Alzheimer Society of Manitoba program director Erin Crawford.

The organization helps families affected by dementia. 

“We have resources to help people successfully navigate some of the changes, but they are challenging and difficult for families no matter what.” 

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