Longterm visitor ban at institutions due to corona causing distress

Maimonides Geriatric Centre

Mount Royal MP Anthony Housefather is urging those opposed to the Quebec government’s ban on visitors to all hospitals, public long-term care institutions and seniors’ residences to write to Premier François Legault with their concerns.

Housefather thinks the ban may be too far-reaching and is calling for a “softening” of restrictions.

The indefinite ban, instituted on March 14 as part of the province’s emergency measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, has caused distress among loved ones. The following day, a small demonstration was held outside the Maimonides Geriatric Centre by relatives and others who fear the total ban will do more harm than good.

Not only are residents being deprived of crucial emotional support, but the practical help that the private care workers hired by many residents is vital, they say. Relatives often provide a lot of care themselves to relieve what they see as chronic understaffing.

Housefather, whose father is a resident of Maimonides, posted on his Facebook page that he has received “heartbreaking texts and emails and calls from relatives of those in hospitals and long-term care facilities…

“I have heard from many who fear that without their caregivers their loved ones will not be properly fed or cared for given the already impossible burdens placed on health care staff…

“The very laudable objective of protecting vulnerable seniors is well-intentioned. But knowing that on the ground many of these seniors will not be properly cared for as an overwhelmed staff suddenly has to deal with an absence of caregivers and relatives means to me that this well-intentioned action is not the right course.”

He suggests the wearing of gowns and masks, or, for hired care givers, the requirement that they be approved by the local health authorities.

“I will keep trying on my end and encourage everyone else to email the premier and Quebec Minister of a Health Danielle McCann and explain your specific situation.”

The premier has said exceptions might be made in end-of-life situations.

Côte St-Luc councillor and lawyer Dida Berku, whose mother is at Maimonides, commented, “I think the staff are very dedicated. But there is no way they will be able to provide the level of care that the patients rely upon. Companions and family help the residents dress, eat, walk and move about, and assist them in every way. Staff will soon burn out. “My mom has already called me crying and she is still more independent than most. It’s a very precarious situation. I’m sure they will find a way to ease up on this restriction, as it’s just not sustainable.”

Berku acknowledges that if COVID-19 infects these institutions, the residents are “doomed.”

She suggests allowing “certified personnel” to tend to those who need it most.

The private workers fall into two main categories: those who are provincially certified personal support workers and less qualified companions.

Maimonides resident Beverly Spanier, a member of its users’ committee, said the ban on outside help is putting a tremendous strain on the already overworked staff, who are trying “heroically” to fill the gap.

She fears the “cure” may be worse than the risk. “What has happened here could cause loss of life in numbers higher than the coronavirus.”

Beverly Spanier

Spanier estimates a third of Maimonides residents have some sort of private support.

“Unless the government is going to triple the amount of staff in these facilities, it will be a nightmare for everyone. The staff is showing us all the love they can; they know we are afraid. But can they do this on a long-term basis? I’m not sure.”

She suggests checks could be put in place for workers each time they come in, attesting that they have not travelled or been in contact with an ill person, or even requiring gowns and masks.

On humanitarian grounds, she implores that loved ones be permitted to visit at least once a week briefly, following the same rules.

For herself, as a paraplegic, Spanier said she was dependent on the assistance of the certified workers she employed daily to have some “quality of life.”

On another matter, Housefather is urging the thousands of Quebec “snowbirds” to return home now. 

“I encourage everyone to (without panicking) do the things you need to do to close your winter residence, pack and return home to Canada as soon as you reasonably can.

“While Canadian citizens and permanent residents will always be able to enter Canada, we cannot control decisions made by commercial airlines to delay or cease travel or by foreign governments who may limit or suspend air travel with little warning.

“So the safest thing is to return as soon as you can, if flying commercially. For those driving, the land border will remain open.”

One Montreal snowbird who heeded that warning is Sidney Margles.

He and his partner decided to drive home from Florida rather than fly. His vehicle had been shipped there when they came down a few months ago.

“We had planned to fly back next week. However, we had second thoughts about getting into a tube with 200 people, with perhaps even one infected person,” he emailed en route in Savannah, Ga., on March 16.

Another Montrealer, Sid Birns, said he is sticking to his original plan to fly back on April 15.

“Century Village [in Deerfield] is a relatively safe place, we don’t have people coming in from all parts of the world. Most of the snowbirds are heading home now and, of course, the year-round residents, well, they are here to stay,” he emailed.