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Monday, December 5, 2022
Letter: Mother feels like she is ‘in jail’ due to care home’s strict rules

The following letter was sent to Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates and a copy was submitted to The Lake Report for publication.

There is a serious disconnect between the government’s COVID requirements and how some long-term care (LTC) facilities choose to interpret them.

I am an essential caregiver for my mother, who lives at Heritage Place, a Radiant Care long-term care facility in Virgil. I have received my first vaccine and am patiently awaiting my second.

I get COVID tested four times a week – twice in my mother’s LTC home and twice at my local pharmacy. I’m curious to know whether the staff at the home are tested as often as I am.

On May 4, Premier Doug Ford announced that residents and their caregivers could now hug and hold hands. What wonderful news. Oh, but there is a caveat: both the resident and the caregiver must be fully vaccinated.

My mother is fully vaccinated but two days before I was to receive my second shot, the government announced that there would be a four-month wait period between the two shots.

When only 3 per cent of the Canadian population is fully vaccinated, that leaves few caregivers with two vaccinations. I’m scheduled to get my second shot in early June. So, I will have to wait four weeks before I can hold my mother’s hand or give her that first hug in over a year.

The staff and administration of Heritage Place take COVID very seriously. Unfortunately, a number of their protocols and restrictions appear to target essential caregivers. For example, the government, in 2020 revised its policy to allow window visits but Heritage Place refuses to allow them.

To ensure essential caregivers don’t forget, they recently posted full-page notices on the windows in every room. If we open a window to allow for fresh air to circulate in the stuffy room, we risk being publicly reprimanded.

We are forbidden to chat to other caregivers or residents when moving to and from our loved one’s room. Even though Heritage Place has nice, well laid-out grounds, outdoor visits are being restricted to three specific spots in the enclosed courtyard. We have been instructed to check first for availability.

I’m not sure how I’m supposed to be able to do this, when I’m also told to go directly to my mother’s room after being screened in. If I am fortune enough to have a staff person confirm there is space, I am required to sanitize the chair and table, sit six feet away from my mother with both of us wearing masks. I’m required to sanitize the whole area again prior to returning to my mother’s room.

When the CEO was asked for clarification, we were told that the staff work hard, the government will be introducing additional changes and that they will get back to us after that. The real irony, is that while in my mother’s room, it is OK for me to be elbow to elbow with her while working on a puzzle, brushing her hair or toileting her.

Doug Ford says my mother can leave her home for essential reasons, including exercise, to buy groceries or visit a pharmacy. The LTC administration says that me pushing my mother’s wheelchair on the grounds does not constitute exercise for my mother, just me.

All her food and medications are provided through the home, so there is no need to go grocery shopping or go to a pharmacy. The publicized data on the mental and psychological benefits of fresh air and importance of a change of scenery are ignored, as it doesn’t constitute exercise.

My mother will be 96 years old next month. Although she has Parkinson, she is cognitively aware. She tells me she is “in jail.” When I mentioned how my mother feels, the administration tells me that I can always take her home.

Like many others, that is not an option. Why are my mother and I having to pay for this disconnect between the government and the home? How many other families are facing the same struggle?

As an essential caregiver, I often feel that if I complain or raise concerns, my mother will suffer consequences from disgruntled staff. I also know there are other families at the home who feel the same way.

Recently, Dr. Roger McIntyre was quoted in the National Post as saying, “You cannot actually protect someone’s physical health, and just go ahead and destroy their mental health.” Another unknown author wrote, “Being old is not an illness; being old is a stage of life and those who are lucky enough to reach that stage deserve to be treated with respect.”

In closing, did I mention that I get COVID tested four times a week in order to visit my mother daily?

Sandra Bott